I've met many Christians recently who are quite vocally opposed to same-sex marriage. A few weeks ago, during our new Bible study, I had my first practice at sitting quietly, waiting out an impassioned rant about how a stack of homosexual people were out showing their support for the bills seeking to allow same-sex marriage, and how they would probably pass because “normal” people weren’t turning up to protest. I’m becoming rather good at picking at my fingernails and brushing at biscuit crumbs and avoiding making eye contact, because I’m not sure how I feel about homosexuality yet, but I believe that if it is a sin it’s no worse than pride or self-righteousness or any of the other imperfections we all grapple with daily.
More than this, though, in the whole The Christians versus The Homosexuals battle, I see what could be a beautiful opportunity for the spreading of God’s abundant love instead being used as a chance to further drive away those who are just as in need of grace and hope as we are. Too often in this war, the distinction between anti-homosexuality and anti-homosexuals is blurred, if not absent entirely. I remember seeing a documentary years ago on the Mardi Gras parades in the United States, which made me cry when it showed a guy holding a sign displaying the acrostic message “God Abhors You.“ In the last month I’ve heard Christians scoffing over anti-homophobia campaigns and support groups for gay teenagers as if these were terrible things. What’s truly terrible is young gay people committing suicide as a result of constant bullying and a feeling of complete aloneness. As Paul Goodliff writes (on page 169 of Care in a Confused Climate), “The Church must beware when its voice seems closer to that of the Pharisees than to that of its Lord.”
Jesus seemed to really care about people. He hung out with and touched and ate with and treated with respect the people that made the religious and comfortable people feel dirty and uncomfortable: prostitutes, tax collectors, lepers, women. The apostle Paul seemed to love people too, making himself “a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible.” He goes on to say this (in 1 Corinthians 9:19-23):
To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law. To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law), so as to win those not having the law. To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some. I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings.
Both Jesus and Paul seemed to prioritise people over “theology,” showing compassion, humility and pure love, and meeting people exactly where they were at. Paul describes himself and his team as “Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us.” What’s God’s appeal to the homosexual people of the world today? Is it not exactly the same appeal to every person, regardless of their race, gender or sexuality: “Be reconciled to God” (2 Corinthians 5:20)? How many people will be attracted to the gospel of reconciliation as a result of the anti-same-sex-marriage lobbying Christians are doing? How many will be overwhelmed by the goodness and love of God? How many will think, “Wow, Jesus is so awesome!”? It’s a stab in the dark, but I’m going to say none.
We can preach on and on about the theology of marriage, but who cares if we get our theology all figured out yet convince no one who needs to hear it that the gospel is breathtakingly wonderful? I don’t think God’s waiting for as many Christians as possible to get their thinking on homosexuality (or predestination or eschatology or anything else) straight so that we can then try to bring everyone else in the world to the same conclusions; “Instead he’s patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish but everyone to come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9).
As always, it’s far easier to see the greys in the issue when you know and love people who disagree with you. It’s easy to think of and call homosexual people “abnormal“ when you only know and hang out with straight people. I really appreciated having someone challenge me about my thoughts on homosexuality (and The Slap, although she was definitely wrong about that) in my previous Bible study. I also really appreciated this “interview” with Justin Lee and hope you will too. I’m not sure that I agree with everything Justin believes, but I love his gracious style and I think it’s important to think about what he says; particularly things like this:
You're absolutely right that a lot of gay people are incredibly wounded, having been theologically "battered" over and over by misguided Christians. I cannot possibly convey how much damage Christians have done to our own cause by approaching the gay community in hurtful ways.This damage, then, makes it very difficult for churches to offer even appropriate and loving correction—the kind we all need. Have you ever seen a dog that's been abused its whole life? They run and cower in the corner if you even try to approach them to pet them. A lot of us feel like that when dealing with conservative Christians, frankly.At this point, the best solution is for Christians to err on the side of being loving when dealing with people who have been abused by the church. Often, you'll have to bite your tongue on the theological error and focus on building relationships. That correction may be necessary, but it will have to come from people who have built the necessary trust first.
This breaks my heart. Goodliff makes another good point (from page 171 of the same book I mentioned earlier): “Too often the gay and lesbian community hears only condemnation from the Church, as if every other dimension of life is secondary to this one area of sexuality. It is time for the Church to be truer to the heart of Jesus and reach out to these communities and help them as people first, homosexuals second.” I’m not calling for Christians to be pro- gay-marriage, necessarily; I am, however, calling for Christians to be pro-compassion, pro-grace and pro-love, to name just a few. In my mind, all of these add up to – at the very least – not being so anti-gay-marriage. Non-Christians already know exactly what we’re going to say when we open our mouths to speak about same-sex marriage. I think sometimes it’s wiser just to be quiet. Sometimes silence says sweeter things.