My state is balancing on the edge of legalizing gay marriage this week. I thought for sure it would happen yesterday, honestly.
I've been really struggling with what the Bible says about gay marriage for the past year or so; really wrestling with the Bible, reading commentaries, books, articles on all sides of the issue. I have not taken this lightly, I promise. And I have prayed. For wisdom, for clarity, I prayed particularly hard that I would not only see what I wanted to see. I wanted to know, really know what the Bible says (not just accept what we've traditionally believed the Bible says).
And so I thought I'd share some thoughts from my journey with y'all, as we stand on the brink of history in NC.
The first thing I realized is that we need to separate being gay from acting on same-sex desires. Our best research has concluded that being gay is just who you are. Most gay folks tell us the same (I'd assume they are the best experts). Just talk to the countless gay Christians who went through "Reparative therapy" to try to change their orientation. It didn't work. They begged God to change them and it did not happen. It is not changeable. Being gay is not a sin. Just as I did not choose my opposite-sex attraction, my gay brothers & sisters did not choose their same-sex attraction. We are the way we are. So it's pretty important if you want to love gay people to acknowledge that gay people are not sinful for their sexual orientation. Who they are at their core, is not unacceptable, not an abomination.
So please stand with me there, Christians. No matter how you feel about gay marriage. Let's please not condemn others for the way God made them. We have zero evidence that people can change their innermost desires, even when they really really want to. And when the Church has (sometimes lovingly, sometimes not-so-much) tried to encourage gay people to change their orientation, the "fruit"of those endeavors has been depression, turning away from the Church, drug use, suicide. Good things don't bear bad fruit. If telling a gay person that they are sinful or evil at their very core pushes them to turn towards those things instead of granting them peace and hope in Jesus, we have done the wrong thing.
Can I tell y'all something? I believe what the Bible says is true. I really do. But I think we humans are prone to error. I think we sometimes interpret the Bible incorrectly. We have certainly gotten it very wrong in our history. We used to think it condoned slavery. We used to think it condoned spousal abuse/dominance. We used to think it told us the Sun and all the planets revolved around the Earth. But as we have gained more knowledge and leaned more heavily on God to help us know him more, we have changed our standards on all of those things. And every time we've changed our widely accepted ideas of what the Bible says it's been a BIG DEAL. Lots of struggling, disagreement, desperate prayer. It is okay for that to be a big deal. None of us are going to interpret the Bible exactly correctly every time. We have to do the best we can, with humility, and be ready to acknowledge when we've gotten something wrong. Then regroup and try to do better.
So today I ask the Church to consider a big job: to look at the Bible again. REALLY look at it. Look at the original language, look at it through cultural lenses (huge pet-peeve of mine: to interpret the Bible for today's culture without taking into account the culture in which it was written). Because one way I trust an interpretation of the Bible is to see if it actually can be true across time, across cultures, across socio-economic lines. If it can't be true for everyone, we must not have interpreted it correctly. Because God was pretty clear that his message is for EVERYONE.
I'm not asking Christians to accept same-sex relationships today. I'm asking you to take a fresh look. Read commentaries, books, articles on BOTH sides of the issue. Read books you think you'll agree with and then read some that you know you won't. Pray about it. Pray that our hearts will be open to the PEOPLE who are gay. Because they are people who are dearly loved by God. Jesus would have come and died for each and every one of them, even if the rest of us were never called into existence. They are beloved. And they've been mistreated as a whole by the Church at large. I think this issue is important enough to merit this kind of attention and study. Because how it's being handled right now is causing pain on all sides. Let's be open and loving. Let's talk to our gay neighbors and friends and say, "let's figure this out together because I know we aren't supposed to be enemies." You cannot speak truth into someone's life until they know how much you love them. I cannot tell someone how much Jesus loves them if they don't know how much I love and respect them first.
It is time to look at original language, to look at the culture in which different parts of the Bible were written. It is time to learn and listen with fresh eyes and open hearts. The Bible is our message from our Creator. It can hold up to scrutiny. And the more I read the Bible, the more it makes me wrestle with tough issues and then I doubt. But then the more I lean on God for answers, the stronger my faith becomes. I can stand firm in my faith when I've really wrestled with it, when I've doubted and read and prayed over things that bother me.
I have a feeling we may come to different conclusions after doing such research. I think it's interesting when that happens. That's how we have differences between denominations. I wonder if, when the Church as a whole isn't provided absolute clarity and unity on something if that means it's not supposed to be a major issue. Could it be that there is room for churches who love gay people and acknowledge they are acceptable to God for who they are yet still believe God does not affirm same-sex relationships and walk with their gay church-members on a journey to live a life of celibacy AND for churches who openly affirm gay marriage as Biblical and walk with gay members as they live a life with a partner? And then, if someone is gay, he or she can lean on God to find which church is best for him/her? Some gay people have wrestled with the Bible and come out believing God would not bless a same-sex relationship. Some have wrestled with the Bible and come away believing that he would. Given that this is not a particular issue I struggle with, I do not feel that I should be the one to tell them which one is right but I would always extend the hand of friendship to figure it out together. The Church already disagrees on so many other issues that are not central to the gospel. Whether you love a man or a woman has nothing to do with Jesus dying on the cross. It is not central to the gospel.
Right now, the Church as a whole doesn't have clarity. For me, when I'm unclear on something, I just go back to what I am clear on: I am to make disciples (that means relationships with others that bring them closer to God), to love, to fight oppression and injustice, to love the unlovable, to put myself last and others first so that they may feel the love of Christ.
May we hold that dear as gay marriage becomes legal in NC.
Are you in? Are you ready to wrestle with the Bible and learn more? Here's a good place to start:
First, learn about "Side A" (God does affirm same-sex relationships) and "Side B" (God does not affirm same-sex relationships). Read The Great Debate (links to essays on each PLUS a link to an interview with Tony and Peggy Campolo on how Christians from both "sides" can stand united)
Read "Torn: Rescuing the Gospel from the Gays vs Christians Debate" by Justin Lee (this book in the end affirms same-sex relationships but is written with grace and respect for those who believe the Bible does not affirm). It's kind of a Side A and Side B with more Side A leanings kind of book. :)
Read this Q&A with a gay Christian who has chosen celibacy rather than acting on same-sex attraction (Side B): http://rachelheldevans.com/blog/ask-a-celibate-gay-christian-response-2
Read: "God and the Gay Christian" by Matthew Vines. This book presents a look at Scripture as God-breathed and true AND supportive of same-sex relationships. "Side A"
Read "Washed and Waiting" by Wesley Hill. This is a "Side B" book written by a celibate, gay Christian.
And PRAY. Pray for wisdom and clarity, for understanding for those who have also dug deep and researched and have come out with different ideas. Pray for unity for the Church on this issue (unity doesn't always mean agreement). Pray for blessings upon our gay friends, pray that the God of peace would make himself overwhelmingly felt right now, pray that our actions would inspire others to run to Jesus.