This essay is a shorter version of my series from last year, "Homosexuality and Evangelical Churches." (Haha, I cared more about being an "evangelical" then. It also draws out some things I alluded to in this week's "Christian Commitment and Homosexuality."
When I talk about Jesus with folks who do not believe, this question always arises. Many evangelical Christians assume that the meaning behind it is, “Do you think we should do whatever we want?” What I've found it really means is “Do you hate homosexuals?” When I name the name of Jesus, people suspect that I might want to hurt gay people. Brothers and sisters, we have a problem.
If being an “evangelical” Christian should be mean anything, it should mean that one loves good news. Specifically, it is the Good News that God raised Jesus from death and enthroned him as Lord of the world, and that this is life-giving and healing news for sinners – not just bad news about hell. It should not mean “despises people.” Those who would uphold a traditional Christian sexual ethic must understand and talk about sexuality in terms of God’s intentions for our abundant life in the states of marriage or celibacy. There is a world of difference between this and talking about gay people being “gross” or “perverted.” The first is grounded in the Gospel and the truth that Jesus offers a positive, livable alternative to anything God calls sinful, while the latter is born of hatred and fear.
Many Christians fail to offer an embodied, “abundant life” alternative to the sexual sins of this culture. Part of this is the common denial of celibacy as a legitimate Christian vocation. Holy celibacy is not simply a painful, frustrated, or sometimes half-hearted abstinence. Marriage and celibacy are each Christian callings that have their own ways of making space for God and caring for others. One is not higher, or more spiritual than the other. Each is an expression of “God's best” for people. Each vocation has its particular ways of ministry and healing, as well as suffering. A faithful Christian community must encourage and support both vocations.
Because of this overvaluation of married life, and undervaluation of celibacy, many churches fail to offer a consistent way of embodying Christian sexual ethics – evangelical Christians call homosexual persons to celibacy, without understanding this vocation themselves, or knowing how to support and welcome it. This is a problem: Our sex-obsessed culture needs to hear good news and to see it embodied, but the Church cannot do this unless it understands itself that a celibate life does not have to be a lonely and emotionally desiccated life. Until then, we lack real good news about sexuality.
Many churches realize this on some level: this is why unmarried people are never asked to consider a celibate vocation, and some have allowed divorced Christians to remarry. Folks will talk about grace and forgiveness and learning from mistakes, but while the biblical witness does amend itself to allow divorce, it never allows the remarriage of divorced persons. Christians allow it because they believe celibacy by definition to be a life of loneliness, isolation and the absence of meaningful family ties, even in the context of their own congregations. It is not good news, and many would never expect heterosexual persons, divorced or otherwise, to pursue it. Therefore, they deviate from “one man and one woman for life,” but only for divorced heterosexuals. That stinks of hypocrisy: at least the fundamentalists are consistent.
Does the Good News include real, embodied good news about sexuality? Does my church know the content of that good news, and how to embody it? Until we can answer both questions with a reasoned affirmative, we have much work to do.