Category Archives: Love
I have a friend on Facebook who posts quotes about marriage. Like, a ton of quotes about marriage. Every time I see one in my news feed, my disposition dampens and I sigh in frustration. Why, you ask? Well, let me show you:
“The silent treatment is the Devil’s loudest invitation for interference in your marriage. When husband and wife stop communicating, it gives the devil sufficient time and uncontested opportunity to influence them separately.”
“Anyone who enters a marriage must do so with the clear understanding that they enter a work with no retirement, a school with no graduation, and a battle with no retreat or surrender.”
“Marriage is not 50-50; Divorce is 50-50. Marriage has to be 100-100. It isn’t dividing everything in half, but giving everything you’ve got!”
“Imagine a man so focused on God that the only reason he looks up to see you is because he heard God say, ‘that’s her.'”
Maybe you’re reading these, and you’re think they’re great – practical, motivational pieces of advice for how to keep your marriage strong. But that’s not how I’m reading them. I’m reading them as a young adult who has been single most of her life, currently has no significant other, yet who dreams of marriage one day. And as such, I read these and I think, “Oh my gosh, getting married sounds like the worst idea ever!” It sounds like all work and no play, it sounds like a daily struggle and an uphill battle, it sounds like the hardest relationship a person could possibly enter into willingly—and worse yet, if you’re a Christian, there’s no getting out of it!
Well, call me idealist, call me naive, call me whatever you wish. But I reject my Facebook friend’s quotes about marriage. I do think it’s important to remember that there will be challenges with whatever man with whom we become each other’s one and only. There will be trials and difficulties and times when giving 50% is all you can do, let alone giving 100%. There will be times when I say, “screw the high road, I need to go be human and fume at him for awhile!” There will be moments when our marriage feels like a tedious chore instead of a beautiful gift.
All hypothetically assuming I get married one day, of course.
I will choose instead to think about the blessing it will be to spend my life with a man who syncs with me so well that I feel secure in committing to lifelong monogamy with him. I will choose to believe that there will be times when marriage is easy as well as times when it is hard. I will choose to believe that I will marry a man whose character is strong enough that we can overcome our struggles together, and offer each other grace when one of us gives our marriage less than our best.
My marriage will not be a battlefield. It will be a life, full of mess and full of beauty. It will not be a relationship in which both of us always succeed in communicating effectively, but I hope it will be one in which we recognize when we need to get over our pity party and talk already, even if it means expressing frustration. I won’t always give 100%, and neither will he. But I hope we will be patient with each other when life gets us down, and we are able to give each other the space we might need to recharge when we’re incapable of being our best.
And I don’t want to be with a guy who lives with his head in the clouds, who doesn’t see me until a voice from God shouts in his head to look up. I want to be with a guy who is in tune with God, yes, but who is also immersed in this world, with eyes and heart open to the people around him. I don’t want to see marriage the way those quotes tell me I should. I’m a silver linings kind of person, I always have been. And I want that optimism to be saturated all through whatever lifelong bond I end up forming with a man. I don’t want to lose it, because then I’ll lose the heart to experience my marriage as something beautiful.
“For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” ~ Romans 8:38-39
I’ve been reading a lot lately about the boundless nature of God’s grace and love. I’ve been reading about how there is no corner of the earth he won’t go to in order to search out his wayward children, and that no amount of sin could possibly make God love us less. I’ve been drinking it all in, marveling at the truth of it.
And all the while, I’ve found my heart grow hardened toward the other side of God. I don’t want to think about or talk about God’s holiness and justness. I feel as though, to acknowledge that my God is as much a God of judgment as He is a God of love would somehow dampen my conception of the breadth of His love. I feel as though talking about consequences and holiness and the pursuit of right living would somehow make those beautiful verses in Romans less true.
It’s a frightfully complex paradox. The more I think about God’s nature and how it is wholly defined by that beautiful word—love—the more I realize just how little I understand about what the word means. Does love mean that hell can’t exist? Does love mean that our sins are washed away? Without repentance, will love one day expire and be replaced by wrath? When does love constitute discipline and when does it constitute mercy? How do I love when I don’t even fully understand what love is?
To try to measure God’s love seems to be a futile task, and I can’t begin to dream of knowing how to address it. All I know is that I can look back to moments in my life, and remember with stunning clarity the times when I felt truly and unconditionally loved. And those times never carried a trace of guilt-tripping or condemnation, though sometimes they involved gentle chastisement. Those demonstrations of love were never about reminding me how much I’d screwed up, but rather they were about affirming my value as a daughter, friend, sister, human being.
And I think those moments, those little specks of time that have since fleeted but remain burned in my memory, those are times when the people around me became unknowing vessels of God’s love to teach me what His love really is.
God’s love is a mystery, but I must trust it.
This is the second essay in a two part series. For part one, click here.
Over the past year, I have studied the topic of homosexuality and the Bible extensively. I have read the relevant scriptures in context many times, and I have carefully weighed both affirming and condemning commentaries about the Bible and its treatment of homosexuality. Through these studies, I have found that each position requires an overarching framework by which the reader interprets biblical texts and assesses their applicability in our modern society. And I have also found that the framework offered by the affirming argument aligns with the overarching narrative of scripture in a way that is holistic, compelling, and doctrinally sound.
The purpose of this essay is to outline this framework and assess how it applies to homosexuality. I will be separating this argument under several different headings, each of which addresses a different angle of what I believe about homosexuality and scripture. In this respect, it will be very different from my first essay, which methodically assessed a series of passages that are traditionally used to condemn gay relationships as sinful. In this essay, I am much more concerned with the larger, overarching themes of scripture, especially the New Testament.
I will be honest and say up-front that there are no Bible verses that directly and explicitly affirm homosexuality. However, I believe that the reason for this is the same reason why there are no explicitly clear scriptures that condemn slavery or misogyny, or afford women equality in the church and in marriage. Every part of the Bible was written by individuals constricted by their cultures to people constricted by the same cultures. This does not mean the Bible does not contain timeless truths, and it does not mean the Bible was not divinely inspired. Rather, I think the Bible contains a complex blend of timeless truth and ideas limited to particular times and ways in which the Holy Spirit infused writers to write words relevant for a particular people, but not always for all people in all times.
Therefore, discussing an affirming view of this issue can be quite a challenge because our culture is so different from the varying cultures in which the manuscripts that now make up the Bible were written. It is the exact same problem that abolitionists of the mid 19th century faced when told that challenging slavery was the equivalent of denying God’s Word. In that day, the pro-slavery camp actually had much more explicit evidence by way of particular verses than the abolitionists did (much in the same way conservative Christians today have more explicit evidence concerning homosexuality). See this blog post for more thoughts on that, and how this point connects to my discussion below.
The Nature of Sin: Origination in the Heart
One clincher for me in the debate about the sinfulness of homosexuality was what the Bible says about the nature of sin. Specifically, in Mark 7 we read a story about Jesus’ encounter with the Pharisees. The Pharisees get upset with Jesus because his disciples are eating food without washing their hands—which they considered to be a ritually unclean act. Jesus chastises them, then later in private discusses the encounter with his disciples:
““Are you so dull?” he asked. “Don’t you see that nothing that enters a person from the outside can defile them? For it doesn’t go into their heart but into their stomach, and then out of the body.” (In saying this, Jesus declared all foods clean.)
He went on: “What comes out of a person is what defiles them. For it is from within, out of a person’s heart, that evil thoughts come—sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly. All these evils come from inside and defile a person.”” (Mark 7: 18:23)
Jesus is telling us here that sin is not external—i.e., committed by forgetting to wash your hands, but rather internal. Sin is a matter of the heart, and letting your own flesh win the day. All the sins he lists—sexual immorality, theft, murder, etc., stem from a deeper place that abandons love for the other in favor of some form of selfish indulgence. Jesus is trying to teach his disciples that sin has nothing to do with violating the letter of the law and everything to do with letting your own flesh reign.
Paul describes a similar concept in his letter to the Romans. As a human being who struggles constantly with sin, his words are full of frustration and angst:
So I find this law at work: Although I want to do good, evil is right there with me. For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; but I see another law at work in me, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within me. What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death? (Romans 7:21-24)
We see here that sin is as deeply saturated within the spirit of Paul. It is within his very nature, and holds a place of internal conflict within his heart. Such is the nature of sin; it originates inside and then is manifested in selfish acts.
Now, what does all this talk of sin have to do with homosexuality? As we have established, sin originates with the heart. Every evil action stems out of evil desire. Therefore, to claim that homosexual relationships are sinful, but heterosexual relationships are by nature wholesome, you would have to concede that there is something innately sinful and corrupt about loving someone of the same gender. And no matter how hard I try, I cannot come up with a reason having to do with the heart why this would be so.
The New Covenant Means Freedom from the Law
For me, one of the most beautiful aspects of life as a believer under the New Covenant is freedom from the Law. But let me be clear. This does not reduce the Law to pointless and arbitrary rules. Rather, as Paul states in Romans 7:7-10, the purpose of the law is to reveal the sinfulness of our own hearts. He uses the example of coveting; because the law forbade it, Paul realized how often he desired to covet.
But as New Covenant believers who are infused with the Holy Spirit, we are utterly free from the restrictions of the Law. Paul makes this abundantly clear over and over again throughout the New Testament; he reminds us that “if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under law” (Galatians 5:18b). And in Romans 10:4 Paul tells us again, “Christ is the end of the law, with the result that there is righteousness for everyone who believes.” Galatians 3:19-25 and Ephesians 2:14-16 offer similar exhortations about freedom in Christ from the burden of the Law.
And so, under the New Covenant, we are free to walk in direct community with the Father through the mediation of the Holy Spirit. There is no set of written codes that is sufficient to guide us; the Holy Spirit itself provides the guidance we follow. And to the extent that we produce love, joy, peace, patience and all the other fruits of that Spirit, we are walking in obedience to the Father, and no code or law of morality or righteous practice is necessary. Therefore, when we see our gay brothers and sisters—whether single or in covenant relationships—exhibiting such fruit, what right have we to impose a moral code upon them? What right have we to say that their lives run contrary to the very real truth in scripture which says that against such things as the fruit of the Spirit, there is no law (Galatians 5:22-23)?
Before I move to the next section, I would like to expound on the preceding paragraph by offering a few more examples in scripture. For it is all well and good for me to say that the witness of fellow believers is sufficient to embrace the wholesomeness of their relationships. But unless I can back it up with biblical passages, these are just my words.
So let’s have a look at Acts 15:1-21. In these verses, the Jewish Christians in Jerusalem are having a contentious debate about the newly converted Gentiles, and whether they ought to be bound by the law of circumcision. After several Jews insist they must, Peter, Paul, and Barnabas stand up and offer their arguments. Peter begins by reminding the council that God alone decides who is accepted: “God, who knows the heart, showed that he accepted them by giving the Holy Spirit to them, just as he did to us. He did not discriminate between us and them, for he purified their hearts by faith” (v. 8-9). Then, he chastises them for insisting that the Gentiles bear a yoke the Jews themselves have not been able to bear (v. 10). Paul and Barnabas enthusiastically reinforce Peter’s points by describing the signs and wonders God has performed through the Gentiles (v. 12).
In the end, James resolves the issue. He suggests a compromise: “It is my judgment, therefore, that we should not make it difficult for the Gentiles who are turning to God. Instead we should write to them, telling them to abstain from food polluted by idols, from sexual immorality, from the meat of strangled animals and from blood” (v. 19-20). In other words, the testimony of good works brought by Peter and Barnabas, and Paul’s insistence that God alone decides the condition of the heart, are sufficient; the Gentiles are not bound by the law but free to pursue the will of God without conforming to Jewish law.
I would suggest to you that the debate that the Jewish council had about the Gentiles is the very same debate we Christians have about the gay community. We exclude them from the possibility that they are walking in obedience to the Father because their lives do not conform to the standards that we understand to be established as law by God. To the Jews of that day, it was inconceivable that God could accept those who have chosen so blatantly to deny his law. And to many Christians today, it is inconceivable that God would accept and work His will within the hearts of gay people, simply because they have the capacity to fall in love with the same gender instead of the opposite gender.
The Exhortation to Love Fulfills the Law
Here we come to the very linchpin of the pro-gay biblical argument. For me, Romans 13:8-10 is one of the most important passages in all of scripture. It sums up everything we could possibly need in order to walk faithfully in the will of God. This beautiful passage reads:
“Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for whoever loves others has fulfilled the law. The commandments, ‘You shall not commit adultery,’ ‘You shall not murder,’ ‘You shall not steal,’ ‘You shall not covet,’ and whatever other command there may be, are summed up in this one command: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ Love does no harm to a neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.”
The extraordinariness of Paul’s claim is overwhelming; it is saying that love itself fulfills the law, and no other commandments are necessary! Not only this, but as Justin Lee informs us in his essay on homosexuality (which you can find here), this passage is essentially the crescendo of all the arguments Paul has been building in Romans to this point:
“Incidentally, this passage in Romans 13 isn’t just some random, obscure passage. Paul spends almost the entire book of Romans building an argument about law, grace, and sin, trying to explain what the Christian gospel is all about. Paul uses the word ‘law’ 74 times in twelve chapters! The passage I just quoted from Romans 13 is the conclusion of Paul’s grand argument; it’s the last time ‘law’ is mentioned for the rest of the book.”
This is the same point we see again and again in scripture, spoken by Jesus himself as well as the other New Testament writers (see Matthew 22:37-40, John 13:35, Galatians 5:14, 1 John 4:7). Every commandment God has ever given us is simply an extension of the commandment to love. Therefore, if we love, we automatically live in submission and fulfillment of God’s commands; this is Paul’s point. And so when a man loves a man with the same compassion selflessness, and strength of spirit that a woman loves a man, why would that first sort of love violate Romans 13:8-10 when the second sort wouldn’t? Therefore, to call gay relationships sinful reduces God’s law to an arbitrary command that is divorced from the standard of love and renders the Romans passage void.
There is just one other Bible passage connected to love that I find to be very enlightening for this discussion. In Matthew 12, we read an account of Jesus’ confrontation with some Pharisees. They have caught his disciples picking grain on the Sabbath, and they demand that Jesus chastise his followers for violating the law. Instead, Jesus turns the tables on them completely:
“If you had known what these words mean, ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice; you would not have condemned the innocent. For the Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath.” (Matthew 12:7-8)
Here Jesus is quoting Hosea 6:6, in which the prophet Hosea is rebuking the Jewish people for being aloof of the suffering around them. Jeff Miner and John Tyler Connoley, co-authors of The Children Are Free, offer this commentary on Jesus’ words:
“Amos, who prophesied around the time of Hosea, talked about how people of the time were attending places of worship, offering sacrifices, and then going home to cheat the poor and foster injustice. Jesus accused the Pharisees of doing the same thing; they were more concerned with rule keeping than with human hunger. Jesus’ point is clear: Human need is more important than rules—even rules found in the Bible.”
Again and again, throughout the Scriptures, Jesus ignores the pull of legalism in favor of compassion. He recognizes human need, whether it is physical or emotional, and meets those needs. This sort of compassion—this sort of love—is not the sort that thrives on obedience to laws but rather keeps an open heart toward the suffering of those around it and engages that suffering. This is the love we are called to demonstrate again and again throughout scripture, and it is exemplified in the love of a same-gendered partnership no less fully than an opposite-gendered one.
The very purpose of the Gospel is to free us from the law of sin and death. We are no longer under the yoke of the Law, but rather we are free to pursue the heart of the Father and walk daily in his commandment to love. And perhaps, if nothing else, we should remember that our lives should reflect the fruit of love that God is sowing in us. For as Jesus says in Matthew 17:16-20,
“By their fruit you will recognize them. Do people pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? Likewise, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus, by their fruit you will recognize them.”
I have seen such good fruit produced among Christians in the LGBT community. I see devotion to the Word, loving-kindness for those around them, and compassion demonstrated where often none is deserved. I see love demonstrated in all of its beautiful forms, both romantic and otherwise. There is no corrupted heart, no sinful indulgence in the way these Christians interact with others, no veil of sin between them and God because they are in same-sex relationships.
And so I ask you. Who are we to deny that witness?
“Love never ends. But as for prophecies, they will come to an end; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will come to an end. For we know only in part, and we prophesy only in part; but when the complete comes, the partial will come to an end. When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became an adult, I put an end to childish ways. For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known. And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love.” 1 Corinthians 13:8-13
These lines come at the end of that beautiful passage that describes with such poetic elegance what love is. As I read them, peace washes over me in great bounds, because in all my searching for the right way to live out my faith in Christ in this world, I know that I merely “see in a mirror, dimly”. This world, and all my knowledge and all my understandings about Jesus and God, are mere reflections of the Truth. And one day, I will know that Truth. One day, I will come face-to-face with God, and my dark and swirling visions will become as clear and bright as the sun.
So we must remember. It is okay that we “know only in part.” It is okay to cradle our beliefs with an open hand and a teachable spirit. Because we are always, always seeing only one small part of the picture, one piece of God’s grand design and purpose for this world. It’s okay that we don’t know it all, and don’t have all the right opinions about the right issues. It’s okay that we screw up, that our distorted vision of life screws with how we think and relate to one another. That will happen, because we “see in a mirror, dimly.”
Yet what we must not lose sight of is what Paul says is greater than prophecy, greater than tongues and greater than knowledge—greater than all these things which will come to an end.
The ability to be patient and kind. The ability to restrain envy and boasting, arrogance and rudeness. The ability to step back and let others have their way, yet not be irritable or resentful about it. The ability to rejoice in truth and not wrongdoing. The ability to bear all things, believe all things, hope all things, endure all things. Love.
This is the standard by which our devotion to the living God will be measured: our ability to live out these things every day in our interactions with those around us, whether our hearts are willing or not. May we never lose sight of that beautiful truth.
Thank you for showing me what it means to have a heart of compassion and to give sacrificially to others, even when they don’t deserve kindness. Thank you for modeling what it means to pursue a relationship with God that is wholly authentic and never fake. Thank you for being real about the shortcomings of the Church, and not ever letting your children blindly think it’s all okay. You listen so well, and you hear with an ear that seeks empathy before judgment, understanding before condemnation. You have a beautiful way of smoothing rough edges when feelings are hurt, and pointing me back to what it really means to be a follower of Christ.
You don’t tell me what I want to hear, but rather exactly what I need to hear. Sometimes I’m pretty annoyed at you for doing that, but I almost always learn and grow because of what you say. You know exactly how to calm me when I’m feeling flustered and agitated and even angry, and that’s a such a marvelous blessing.
And you taught me to wrestle with my faith and be honest about the condition of my heart. You’re real about your feelings of distance from God, and if frustration is what you feel, it’s also what you express. But you’re equally real about the fact that you have, beyond a shadow of doubt, known His presence. And that gives me hope, if for no other reason than because I can live vicariously through you and know that God is here and real and walking in the midst of our daily lives, even when He feels a thousand miles away. Your testimony gives me courage.
So, for all of it, thank you. I love you.
Thank you standing firmly by your convictions. Even though it has led to heartache and misunderstandings, I know that I can always depend on you to be faithful to your belief in Jesus and the infallibility of the Bible. You are like a rock in the stream of life, and often I feel like a fish, floundering in the current and desperate to find my way. You taught me what it looks like to have a high esteem for Scripture, and treat it with the reverence it deserves. Your devotion to Scripture has a large role to play in the reasons why I always “return to the fold”, so to speak, every time I doubt God’s Word and wonder if it’s just a collection of fairy tales.
And the way you live your life and show love to others has kept me in check, and reminded me that even though we rarely see eye-to-eye theologically anymore, our theological beliefs should never get in the way of our ability to love. Yours never have, not once—at least not around me. Even when I’ve felt hurt by the times we talk about God, you always remind me at the end of our discussions that you love me. So thank you, for never letting your theology get in the way of demonstrating love for the people around you.
Thank you, too, for your wisdom and your courage. You never settle for the easy way out, but live out your life with a heart that is in pursuit of truth. You inspire me to search it out too, and not settle with doctrines just because they are held by church leaders. My path has been turning out to be different from yours, but I think it is the same truth-hungering spirit that guides us.
And more than anyone else I know, it is from you that I have learned that God is to be revered. That’s a pretty important lesson to learn, I’d say.
I love you, Dad.
Some people are fragile, and sensitive. For some people, a single message poorly spoken or poorly delivered can strike deep and bruise their soul.
We shouldn’t apologize for being who we are or expressing our beliefs. But we should apologize when we hurt people, whether it is intentional or not.
So be careful with your words. Be careful with the expression of your beliefs. You never know who is listening, or how your words will affect your hearer.
I know, I know. Easier said than done.
But see, I’m both those people. I’m one who is fragile, and sensitive. One wrong word from someone I love, and my mood is dashed into darkness. It usually takes me days to get back to my cheery self.
And I’m also the one who speaks insensitively. I say things without considering how hurtful my words might be. I adamantly express opinions without considering the other side of the coin, so sure of myself that the other person is dead wrong.
Who knows. I might actually have the right opinion in such circumstances. But it doesn’t matter. If that person feels put off, and hurt, and angry because of how I expressed my opinion, then I’m the one who lost in that situation. I’m the one who damaged my witness as a follower of Christ.
So again. Be kind with your words. Be sensitive. Don’t shirk from speaking truth, but don’t express it so adamantly that you fail to realize it when you’re hurting the person to whom you’re speaking.
I thought I’d been making some real progress. I thought that when I looked at people who hold beliefs that differ from mine, I saw people before I saw ideas. I thought I saw that other people can love as fully and selflessly as I can even though we don’t agree about particular things.
I thought I was beginning to see people the way Jesus sees them.
But now I think I just thought that because nobody was challenging my beliefs. And last week, someone did, and I instantly painted this person with an ugly caricature and asked myself, “How could this person possibly know how to love with the love of Jesus? His beliefs are so poisonous, so far from the heart of the Lord that I have come to know. I don’t understand how this person can love.” And I decided he couldn’t, that his beliefs were too toxic.
The problem is, this person has been my mentor for a long time. Like, more than a decade. He was there during the darkest time of my life when I was fresh out of college and jobless and depressed. He is the only person I’ve ever known who has looked me in the eye and told me I am a worthy woman and deserve a righteous man. It was a beautiful moment, a demonstration of love that I will never, ever forget for as long as I live.
So I am at a loss. I’ve always thought that tolerance for others’ beliefs makes you a more loving person. I’ve always thought that being willing to be wrong about a particular theological belief makes you a more loving person. But this person beliefs don’t fit either category, not even a little. Yet he knows how to love. He knew how to reach down into the most insecure, vulnerable parts of me and make me feel valued.
I thought our beliefs feed into our capability to love selflessly. I thought our ability to love selflessly pushes us to more closely to beliefs that line up with the heart of God. Yet I cannot, cannot believe that this man’s beliefs line up with the heart of God. In fact they seem to me to run contrary to so much that Jesus preached.
Yet this man knows how to love.
And I don’t know what to do with that except to freak out and wonder if our beliefs really have anything at all to do with how well we love.
It’s so hard to find the balance between speaking up for what you believe in, and letting things go in favor of promoting unity within the body of Christ. All last night and into today, the Phil Robertson/Duck Dynasty controversy riddled its way through my Facebook news feed. I read up on the controversy, listening to voices on both extremes of the liberal/conservative spectrum. I listened to one video that raged against the fakeness and homophobic hatred of the Duck Dynasty clan, and I read another article that called conservatives to rally around Robertson and fight against the wrongfulness of his suspension.
A couple of articles, such as this one, and this one, rose above the noise for me as honest and convicting responses to Robertson’s statements and A&E’s decision to suspend him. What struck me as particularly honest about these articles is that they don’t try to justify what Robertson said. Because seriously, what he said was vitriolic and dehumanizing, even if that wasn’t his intent. And I don’t care what your beliefs about homosexuality are—if you believe that Phil’s statements reflect the heart of Jesus, I think you’d be dead wrong. Jesus was very much in the business of instilling worth into his listeners and affirming their humanity. On the contrary, what Phil said reduced gay and lesbian human beings to sex acts. And that is wrong.
Anyway…everything I said in the preceding paragraph was my initial response to the controversy. I’ll admit that I then proceeded to offer my input all over Facebook about how wrong Robertson was and how there are consequences when you abuse your right to free speech in such a manner.
I’m not sure yet if that was a good idea, because I don’t know where the balance is. As an LGBT ally and as a Christian, I want to stand against remarks such as Robertson’s, but I also feel that at some point, I’m doing more harm than good by adding fuel to the fire, so to speak. But on the other hand, standing back and saying, “Come on now, let’s just love everybody,” isn’t really an effective response either. I don’t want to stay out of it when someone who is a public face for Christianity in this country compares homosexuality to bestiality and worse, but I also don’t want to contribute to widening the rift between the gay and Christian communities—or the liberal and conservative groups either, for that matter.
I suppose the answer is to approach the issue with love as the focus. Problem is, I’m pretty sure everyone—ranging from those lobbying to support Phil to those decrying him as homophobic—thinks they’re approaching this issue with love as the focus. It’s all quite disheartening, if you ask me. But the way I see it, the real demonstration of love is the one that can see both sides of the coin. The one that can look at what Phil said and ask, “How would a gay person feel if he read this?” I’d imagine he’d feel pretty terrible. And the other question we should ask is, “What was the condition of Phil’s heart when he said what he said?” What he said may have been crass and vulgar, but the capstone of his comments was a call to love. And we can’t ignore that and paint him as an evil person representing evil things, as much as we might think he deserves it.
I bring up the topic of homosexuality quite a bit on this blog, and I ask myself why sometimes. Why do I feel such a burden for sexual minorities? Such a need to listen to their experiences and read about their stories and express what I’ve learned in writing? I can’t really say why except to wonder if it is a burden God himself has placed on my heart. Or maybe it’s because I feel like I have to seriously overcompensate, because most church people I know don’t listen at all. Or maybe…maybe it’s just that I’ve always felt compassion for those who have been treated unfairly. And in this day and this society and this time, precious few people groups have been treated more unfairly by the Church than the LGBT community.
A little while ago, I discovered Stephen’s Sacred Tension blog. I started reading it…and I couldn’t stop. His words struck me so deeply and filled me with a boiling rage because of what my fellow Christians are responsible for, and what we will have to answer for one day. And I thought about all the things that conservative Christians I know have to say about homosexuality, such as flippantly comparing it to adultery, or defining it exclusively in terms of sexual urge. And even more subtle jabs, such as talking about how gay feelings are something that can be healed by God, and that if a person hasn’t experienced that healing, it means they haven’t surrendered their will to the Lord and submitted to the process of sanctification.
One post in particular that Stephen wrote got me thinking pretty hard about what it means to love. Here’s an excerpt:
“I am not asking you to change your beliefs. I am asking you to see that your beliefs have consequences. If you are conservative when it comes to this subject, my intent is not to convince you that homosexuality is right in God’s eyes.
Instead, my goal is to convince you of the price of your words, because there is a price – a terrible price. Most Christians believe they speak eloquently and wisely on this topic, but as long as they fail to realize the cost of their words, they will be babbling uselessly to those who are practically dying to hear the gospel of love. My goal is to show you what it really means when you say, “homosexuality is a sin.”
No matter what you mean to say, what is often heard (and what I often heard) when Christians condemned homosexuality was not a condemnation of sex, but a condemnation of love.
A condemnation of having someone to be with in your old age.
Of having someone warm to be with you at night.
Of having someone to raise a family with.”
I hate to say it, but most conservative Christians are entirely insensitive to how members of the LGBT community perceive the message that homosexuality is a sin. And I wonder if this is because they are afraid—afraid to have their own perspective challenged, afraid to wonder what it will mean to admit that gay people do not associate being gay with sex and promiscuity so much as they associate it with their capacity love another person romantically. Because if Christians admit that, then suddenly the whole game changes. Suddenly what they’re asking LGBT people for when they ask them not to sin isn’t just to quit sleeping around. They’re asking them to give up on marriage, and romance, and family.
Or at least, that is how gay people see it.
And if we fail to put ourselves in the shoes of the LGBT community, then we fail to love them. It’s really that simple.
In 1 Corinthians 9:19-23, Paul says this:
“For though I am free from all men, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win the more; and to the Jews I became as a Jew, that I might win Jews; to those who are under the law, as under the law, that I might win those who are under the law; to those who are without law, as without law (not being without law toward God, but under law toward Christ), that I might win those who are without law; to the weak I became as weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all men, that I might by all means save some. Now this I do for the gospel’s sake, that I may be partaker of it with you.”
Of course Paul isn’t just talking about becoming as a Jew, or as those under the law or without it, or as the weak. He became all things to all men. And as believers in Christ, you and I are called to be the same. To those who are gay, become as one who is gay. See the world through their eyes. Join in their suffering. For goodness’ sakes, listen to them when they say, as Stephen does, that calling homosexuality a sin makes them feel like a very integral part of them is broken. Listen to them when they say they can’t change their attractions, they can’t become straight. Until you do…until you listen to them, and open your heart to what they are trying to tell you, I really believe you are failing your LGBT brothers and sisters. And I believe you are failing God’s call to love.
It is quite a tricky thing to find a balance in your beliefs. I want to be open-minded enough that I am receptive and submissive when God works in me to abolish beliefs that are not of him. But I also want to be firmly convicted about the beliefs that I trust in my gut are of God.
I think I’m learning, slowly, that the standard by which my beliefs ought to be measured is love. After all, 1 John 4:8 tells me that God is love. So if love is the essence of the Father, the quality that above all others that characterizes him, I think it is also the quality by which all my beliefs ought to be measured.
For example, one issue I am struggling to come to terms with right now is the role of women in institutionalized religion. I’m pretty sure that I have slowly but surely become an egalitarian, and I’m also pretty sure that this is because love says “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female—for all of you are one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28). Love does not elevate one gender over another, members of one social class over another, members of one ethnicity over another. Love says we are all on level playing ground, and that our roles in our families, our churches, and our society should be based on the unique qualities God has gifted us with, and not our gender.
Given this idea of love as the cornerstone upon which we ought to build our doctrines, I find it fascinating that love is the one thing that I feel Christians can agree on. We all know what it looks like to treat another with selfless love, and we all know what it looks like when we’re just pointing fingers or lifting ourselves up at the expense of another. Love, I think, is the glue that unifies the Body of Christ.
And I find that to be just beautiful, because God is Love.