In recent months, Helen, we’ve exchanged thoughts on Jesus, “The Way,” as he described himself, who leads through close-to-home places like public high schools and prisons. Let’s think about another stopping place: being gay and being on The Way.
I’ve learned the hard way that speaking in abstractions on this subject, disconnected from any real engagement with real human beings, hinders rather than helps. Let me illustrate from experience.
In my pastoral years at Grace Lutheran in River Forest, men and women have come to my study and said something like this: It’s taken a long time for me to trust you enough to come here and tell you this. I’m gay. You need to know that I’ve been hurt when seeking out some church and being rejected when I’ve let it be known that I am who I am. Furthermore, don’t lecture me on the promiscuous life of one random sex partner after another. It’s hell and I’ve had it. What do you have to say to me, here and now?
I’m not making this up, nor claiming it as a verbatim transcript that covers every situation, nor implying that all gay people are promiscuous. But it is honest to what I’ve experienced and I offer it to you, and anybody else interested in joining in, for attention to what it means for people of differing sexual orientation to walk The Way together.
What I have to say begins with humility. I am awed that people who have been through agonies I know little about trust me enough to even come by and tell me how it is.
My response goes something like this: Welcome, fellow sinner, to the acceptance Jesus of Nazareth gives. That’s who we are around here, whatever our sexuality-people who have been welcomed by this amazing Lord, at the cost of his life, for us all. Jesus the Way takes us where we are, as we are, but doesn’t leave us there. He calls us to love God, others, and self with no “God hates fags” sign to hold up, nor any illusions that “anything goes” in matters as important as what we do with our sexuality, gay or straight.
We have a Word from him, both of judgment on our sins and grace that unites us in bringing out the good gifts given each for growing in faith and serving the wider good. This includes dignifying and deepening the gift of our sexuality as a sign of God’s goodness to us as we’re on The Way in healthy, hearty, holy living in a world daily saturated with a lot of baloney about sex-either deifying or demonizing it.
Some implications of what this might say to current issues:
We people of The Jesus Way have a spotty record on understanding the mystery of homosexuality. And we need to do better in interpreting the Scriptures on this subject with care for varied contexts, and above all, speaking the Good News of the new creation in Jesus Christ as hope and comfort for us all as we all celebrate and struggle with our humanness.
Regarding same sex partners, God made us for belonging. When gay persons find in each other deep qualities of compatibility and head off the demons of loneliness by helping each other find fulfilling companionship that makes them better persons, I am glad. I have no interest in Bedroom Police prurience that pries into details that are nobody’s business.
Regarding marriage between gay persons, heterosexual folks have a marriage failure rate that makes me wonder why gay folks want the legal sanction of matrimony. The answers, of course, have to do with civil justice in matters of benefits, status, etc. and the outcome of this hotly debated issue rests on how the body politic resolves it. As for me in my calling, I am responsible to a Biblical truth which teaches that marriage is more than a civil compact but a God-given covenant between a man and a woman, a sign of the Divine love that joins Christ and his church, a building block for all human community, and a channel to keep the human race going. I hold to that.
Regarding the current convulsion among Christian denominations on what faithful Christians who are homosexual can or cannot do in serving God in the church, my wish is so simple it might be called simplistic. Would that people of The Way, when gathering in conventions, do this: worship, think, pray, listen, study, learn, argue, discuss, bless each other and then go home without majority votes to determine ministry but with enlightened determination to help each other live faithfully. Too often single-issue causes like sexual ethics become the tail that wags the dog-at the expense of Christ’s clear command to proclaim Good News, feed the starving, heal the sick, and be peacemakers in a world that couldn’t care less about what denominations decide. Yet we must care because we are called to serve the Lord who gives us our marching orders-the same Lord who never, ever, excluded anybody, especially outcasts, from The Way.
P.S.: It was more than two years ago that Wednesday Journal picked up on our faith/doubt dialog. We’re grateful for the space they give us and remind readers that all can join in. I can’t think of a newspaper anywhere that has carried a continuing dialog quite like this. Thanks, WJ.