As I talk with different people about how to include sexual minorities in the church, there are certain words and phrases that get repeated. And many of them are not helpful. You probably won’t be surprised to know that I have a pretty long list of things we need to quit saying to each other. Rather than discuss them all in one long post, I want to take one or two at a time. So here goes:
Problematic phrase #1: “The Bible is clear . . . “ that homosexuality is a sin.
The first problem with this phrase is that the Bible is not clear. Not about homosexuality, not about a lot of things. The Bible was written in and for a culture vastly different from ours. The Bible was spoken and written in languages that few of us can speak or read today. The Bible tells contradictory stories and gives contradictory advise at many points. Anyone who believes the Bible is clear is not engaging with the scriptures in an honest and faithful way.
The second problem with this phrase is the implication behind it. When people say this, they are claiming that those who condemn same sex relationships are following the Bible, while those who affirm such relationships are throwing out the teachings of Scripture in order to accommodate secular values.
It’s not true. Many of us who want to welcome sexual minorities fully into the church take the Bible very seriously. We study it. We pray with it. We seek to live by it. And, if we’re honest, many people who oppose gay marriage have no biblical or theological basis for doing so–they just think it’s weird for two guys to be in love.
Suggested replacement phrase: “Based on my current understanding of Scripture . . . “
And, so as not to let the affirming contingent off the hook, I’ll go ahead with problematic phrase #2: “Jesus just wants us to love people.”
There is, of course, no literal problem with this phrase. Jesus does want us to love people. The problem is with the implication–those who view homosexuality as a sin are not loving; those who accept LGBT people are loving.
We know it’s not that simple. Love does not always mean affirming the choices that someone makes. Mennonites (and other pacifists) would say that the most faithful way to love military personnel is to speak out against war and try to help soldiers get out of active duty. Likewise, those who sincerely believe that same-sex intimate relationships are outside of God’s good will for humanity are acting out of love when they protest gay marriage and try to “rehabilitate” LGBT people.
Yes, I think this love is misguided. But just like it’s not fair for anyone to claim a monopoly on Biblical understanding, it is not fair for others to claim a monopoly on love. People on all sides can ignore the Bible. People on all sides can act in unloving ways. Most of us within the church are trying to be faithful to the teachings of Scripture and we are trying to follow the way of love that Jesus showed us.
Suggested replacement phrase: “I believe we are not fully living out the love of Christ when we (exclude gays from ministry, teach young people that their sexual identity is wrong, refuse membership to sexual minorities . . . ).”
I’ll write about more phrases we need to abandon later. What about you? What comments do you find unhelpful as we talk about issues of sexuality in the church?