Saturday, January 20, 2007

“What do you think about gay people?”

Ordinary Time

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.


Anonymous said...

That's really interesting Kyle; you have some great points!

Anonymous said...

Since you have so many coherent, non-hateful thoughts on the conservative side of this issue, I have a question for you that I haven't seen addressed. What advice do you have for a homosexual who (for whatever reason) is in a heterosexual marriage. I know a number of people on the liberal side of this issue who would say get a divorce and be true to yourself. What is your take?

Kyle said...

Thanks, Katie.

Oooh, thanks, Indie. And that's a really good question.

Okay, so let's say I'm a parish priest (gasp!) and this is a pastoral issue I have to deal with. First, I don't think it's a good idea for people who understand themselves to be homosexuals to enter heterosexual marriages. (I still have a headache from watching Brokeback Mountain.)

I have heard from many (ahem) "liberal" Christians the line about being true to oneself. No matter the issue, I think it's very important to understand that this is not a Christian perspective on anything. Let's talk instead about being faithful to love well the people in our lives, and about being faithful in our commitments to Jesus.

That being said, such a situation calls for deep compassion. And I mean compassion, understanding that such a situation is one of deep pain for this hypothetical couple, and that it will entail a good bit of shared pain borne by their Christian community - their pastor and their siblings in Christ. Christian communities are meant to be built to absorb that, so it's cool. Surely a sexual relationship is very, very important, but it's not everything, particular when a couple is raising a family. So in such a case, we would all need to be talking about growing as a family unit within one's local expression of the Body of Christ.

I think if kids are adults or not present, a case could be made to dissolve/annul/whatever the marriage, and release both partners from that kind of commitment. I couldn't speak to all the hurts and forgiveness and healing that might or might not be present in such a situation, so I wouldn't want to talk about holding to hard and fast rules on such things.

So I guess the bottom line is this: what would the responsibility look like to love their children and to love one another? Thinking about oneself and then the good of the children or spouse is already disqualified as a Christian understanding.

Whoa, that took awhile.

Tom Mohan said...

I think it appropriate that you answer the hypothetical with the added hypo that you are a priest in a pastoral setting. My opinion is that this is a situation were there are so many busybodies who are not homosexual, nor are they pastoring someone who is homosexual (nor have a child struggling with it), but rather it seems these people want to hassle others for something they cannot be busted for themselves. The bigger issue for me is sexual fidelity. I can fit myself into those temptations; or perhaps an issue of celibacy vs. marriage like Kyle describes which I sorted through at one point. That being said I do poke some fun at gay culture from time to time - since we have lived in a neighborhood with its share of gays folks as neighbors. I'm guessing they make fun of us too. But this whole hate thing is poison.

Kyle said...

Amen, amen, amen.

Anonymous said...

Thanks, Kyle. And sorry for using that "dirty word".

Anonymous said...

Alright thought I'd throw a bone into the discussion. I know of a number of growing churches throughout the country who have made it a practice of not allowing people who are gay, but do not practice, to participate in any church related ministries; particularly children's or youth ministries. Since this is becoming a more and more common practice in churches in the South, I wonder what was your thoughts on it.

Kyle said...

Oh, you mean the people who insist that a homosexual orientation is a moral failing, and that gay people are child molesters?

Haha, what was the question?

I wouldn't give those folks the time of day. Seriously. I have better things to do.

Like Mohan pointed out, "this whole hate thing is poison."

Oh, and Indie, I put "liberal" in quotes to emphasize (successfully, I hope?) that I use it very lightly, and not pejoratively. I think it's important to be very clear on that. :0)

Jared Cramer said...

kyle, i don't know if you have read it yet, but christopher posted a response to your two essays on this subject. i'd be curious to your response to his comments: