As a minister, you get used to hearing people ask you what you believe about all kinds of different issues. This occurs from people within your church as well as people outside your church – from Christians as well as non-Christians. Occasionally, I’ll even receive Facebook messages from high school friends and old acquaintances asking my opinion about certain matters – anything from doctrine to politics to current events to interior design – ok, that hasn’t happened, but just about everything else has! Most ministers become adept at navigating their responses to delicate and controversial issues in order to convey their true feelings while also respecting a diversity of thought and opinion. Some, like Patrick Mead, even offer an ongoing “ask the preacher” kind of format in his blog. No doubt, we all have our sacred cows and find it difficult to answer both honestly and succinctly to certain matters (just ask me about militarism), but by and large, this is something that comes with the territory and the title. We are teachers. Those who preach come from a long line of prophets and Christian leaders. Our voices aren’t more important than anyone else’s – I firmly believe that – but our voices are often heard by more than others. Even those of us who preach at small churches like mine carry some degree of influence. Thus, people are genuinely interested in what we have to say.
Generally, I truly appreciate these inquiries and am humbled that anyone cares about my opinion. I try to be a constant student, love learning, and make every effort to be as prepared for any question or discussion that may come my way. The older I get and the more I study and learn – the more inadequate I feel and the more difficulty I have in offering short answers to just about any question. I find I hate yes/no questions more than ever. And the more I change my mind about things, the less certain I become about many of the beliefs I currently hold.
And so, inevitably, I find myself asked in different ways, under differing circumstances, and by a broad diversity of people what I believe about homosexuality and correspondingly what I believe the Bible teaches about homosexuality. I have some pretty controversial perspectives on politics and nationalism (along with a few other things :-)) but I have become more afraid of tackling this topic than any other . . . by far.
If you are like me, you have a short attention span when it comes to reading blog posts and so, if you are truly like me, you probably won’t read this entire thing, because . . . if you’re like me, you can’t write shortly or succinctly about this one, but I’ll do what I can to offer what is at the heart of my struggle here.
In response to one of the most recent inquiries into my beliefs about homosexuality and Christianity and the Bible, I hemmed and hawed and finally said, “I don’t know.” It wasn’t a cop-out and I wasn’t trying to avoid the discussion. Honestly, I’ve been studying and thinking about this issue pretty seriously since 1998 when I was first exposed to teenagers who were wrestling with this issue. I was pretty confused back then, and I find it discouraging that 15 years later, I’m still really confused and unsure.
And now everyone wants to know what I think – well, not everyone, but three or four people. As of late, it’s become an explosive topic to discuss – even more than in the past. I’m disappointed that more high profile pastors and Christian leaders aren’t having honest public discussion about the topic. I’m disappointed, but I’m not surprised. I’m sure they’re scared to death to open this can of worms. Sure, the boisterous voices on either the far right and far left of the issue are quick to throw out their zingers and offer their messages of condemnation or salvation, but just look at how many are really quiet. My tradition is, admittedly, an interesting one, but we have our fair share of public figures, and I haven’t heard many of them address this topic head on. Thank you for being an exception Sally Gary!
This post is already long, so let me get to the heart of things here. You want to know my opinion about this matter? I don’t know. Honestly. I don’t know what I believe about it. I feel caught between a rock and a hard place in coming to terms with a theological articulation that I am comfortable with. I’ll offer a point or two below to highlight why I don’t know, but first I want to ask the question, “Is it so bad that I don’t know?” Haven’t we moved beyond the era where pastors and other teachers and leaders have to be “answer men/women”? Haven’t we been wrong on enough matters to keep us from speaking too definitively on just about anything? I know this scares the hell out of some people, but just look at the track record of the church. We’ve been wrong . . . really, really wrong, on some crucial matters in the past. Southern churches on slavery and later on civil rights, German Lutherans and their dual kingdom theology allowing them to turn the other way at Hitler’s rise to power . . . torture and execution of heretics . . . need I go on?
Even the Bible gets it wrong. If you’ve never squirmed your way through some of the Old Testament passages that kicked the women out of the camp because they were on their period or that would offer a rapist the woman’s hand in marriage for a fee or read the book of Joshua and considered the countless women and children that were murdered at the hands of God’s people, you have skipped over the icky parts. Maybe I’m overstating it to say that “the Bible gets it wrong” . . . but my point is that it’s not like this sacred book that we all point to for guidance and truth can just be picked up preached without some unpacking.
For this issue of homosexuality, there’s a lot at stake, and I understand that’s why it’s so explosive. All wrapped up in this matter are the issues of politics, the sacredness/sacrament of marriage, equality, rights, biblical interpretation (hermeneutics), your view of Scripture, your view of the state, love, parenting, creation, the nature of God, the nature of humanity, science, genetics, and probably a thousand others I’ve overlooked.
And I don’t know what to do with it all. Theologically and hermeneutically, I struggle to make homosexuality “fit.” There’s a lot at stake in order for me to make it “fit,” and slowly around me some of those troubles are beginning to fall away. However, for good or for ill, I remain reluctant to make that jump. Experientially, I struggle to make the prohibition of homosexuality “fit.” Friends, companions, and conversation partners I have had in the past and currently have help me struggle through their created nature. Why would they have feelings like this? Why would God make them like this? What does it mean? It is like other struggles (alcoholism, etc.) but it’s not the same. Not by a long stretch. And so . . . what to do?
I have a good friend who is transgendered and, whether she knows it or not, is helping me think through this as well. When I say alot is at stake, this comes front and center in the matter of gender identity. The first question we ask upon a child’s birth is, “Is it a boy or a girl?” It’s the fundamental black and white question in our society. But what about when it’s not black and white? What about when we understand gender as more than anatomical? When that question becomes complicated, that seems to make the point that everything is complicated.
There are so many related issues under the rubric of homosexuality and I am far from prepared to delve into even a few of them. For now, I am prepared to let you know that I don’t know. Many, maybe even most, will look at that as being “soft.” A cop out. Wimping out. Maybe it is. Maybe I am. I do believe that most of what I am hearing and reading about regarding the matter of homosexuality from professed Christians isn’t helping anyone. It’s often vitriol, judgmental, and condescending. I know that all of it isn’t and that we are becoming more adept at public discourse regarding the issue, but we have a long ways to go.
I also know that there are many Christians who are struggling through this matter. I know many of them are not in churches that allow them to share openly and honestly the struggles that comes with these feelings and, perhaps, being in these relationships. I know that I don’t understand what they are going through. I want to empathize, and try as much as I can, but I don’t understand their struggles. I am full of my own struggles and know the temptation of pornography, short skirts, and tight shirts. I know the power of libido and confess my own shortcomings in taking captive those thoughts to Christ. And I know that I am not in a position of being your judge, and hope that these people can find friends and companions that will help them navigate these challenging waters. I hope to provide some additional posts in the coming weeks into some of my struggles through this issue, but as for now, I just wanted to say to all those who want to know what I think about homosexuality: “I don’t know.”