As a Christian, I’ve always felt like my beliefs were constantly at odds with secular culture. The Bible said that the “World” was bad and constantly trying to compromise your beliefs. But if you had courage to stand with God, God would stand with you in the end.
The most recent example was with homosexuality. Our entire country used to agree with the Bible that it was wrong and a sinful behavior, but because of secularism, people were becoming okay with sin.
In college I decided to do something about it.
I created a blog where I defended the (conservative) Christian position on any issue I could think of. I soon wrote articles on why homosexuality was wrong. To me, it was like alcohol. Even if you didn’t choose your desires, you still had self-control. If we always gave into what we wanted, the world would be chaos.
After graduation I joined a new church where they preached on topics I had never heard before: justice for the poor, respect for the environment, equality for women, and expecting healing when you prayed for the sick. In many ways the church seemed to take all the beautiful things from conservatism and liberalism and put them in one place.
I remember being in my car where I was listening to a sermon on homosexuality. The pastor said that even though homosexuality was wrong, the Church’s reaction to homosexuals was equally wrong.
These people had been rejected so often by their own friends and family. Drawn to the church – no doubt inspired by the “come as you are mottos” – we rejected them again.
We stigmatized them. We were the pharisee in the story that knelt down and said, “God, I thank you I am not like other people – robbers, evildoers, adulterers – or even like this homosexual.”
A gay person was created in the image of God, and we had rejected that image.
I was floored. The pastor said that he would take the first step in repenting, and I knew I had to do the same.
My heart had been softened, but my mind couldn’t escape the fact that the Bible was still clear: homosexuality was wrong. It had lopped them in with liars, adulterers, and people who worshiped pieces of stone.
Things began to shift again over 5 years later. One of my mentors told me about a book written by a friend of his who was a pastor. This pastor had planted a church in a liberal part of the state and had many people in his congregation who were gay. He believed being gay was a sin, so he felt justified when he excluded them from membership, leadership, and getting married.
But over time this approach seemed to backfire. Parents would come to him for counseling, thinking that their kids were defective. They knew it was just a sin, but they felt like there was something deeply wrong with them. The kids would in turn come to him for advice because they felt like their core identity was being rejected.
The pastor decided that it was time to re-examine the Biblical texts on homosexuality. If his approach was going to cause so much harm and disunity, he wanted to be certain that there were no other alternative views out there.
To his shock, he discovered a sharp debate between Biblical scholars on the meaning and interpretation of the texts. For example:
- In the ancient world, there was virtually no concept of sexual orientation. (Homosexuality didn’t appear in print until the 1860s.) (1)
- The Old Testament passages in Leviticus (18:22, 20:13) were understood by first-century Jewish commentators as talking about male shrine and cult temple prostitution. (2)
- The New Testament passages were likely speaking out against men in exploitative relationships: men having sex with prostitutes, slaves, and adolescent boys. (3)
After doing an exhaustive study of the passages in question, the pastor came to this conclusion:
I think it adds up to a reasonable possibility that the texts are not addressing the morality of what happens between same-sex couples who love each other as equals and express their sexuality in the context of a loving, monogamous relationship….[The traditional readings] may be correct. But [they] are not indisputably correct, as is often assumed. (4)
The pastor recognized that while the Bible didn’t seem to be speaking about modern gay relationships, the church had handled this issue poorly. Views on homosexuality became a litmus test. Christians would simply not associate with other Christians who had different views. Recognizing that this was not a settled issue in the church and wanting to create space for people of differing viewpoints, the pastor decided to take a Third Way.
My views were cemented a year later when I became friends with several gay Christians.
As I mentioned before, I had grown up believing that because homosexuality was a sin, it would naturally lead to various problems in the person’s life. After all, you can’t go against God’s natural order and get off scot-free. Just as there are no well-rounded alcoholics, there could be no well-rounded people who were gay. As Jesus mentions in Matthew 7, bad trees bear bad fruit:
“By their fruit you will recognize them. Are grapes gathered from thorn bushes, or figs from thistles? Likewise, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. So then, by their fruit you will recognize them.”
But I didn’t see the bad fruit in them.
In fact, when I looked at my gay friends, all I saw was love.
While I obviously couldn’t see into every part of their lives, Jesus was pretty clear that bad trees didn’t produce good fruit.
In the end, it was really love that took the day. In the face of love, any arguments I had feel flat. As the Apostle John wrote in the New Testament:
Beloved, let us love one another, because love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. – 1 John 4:7-8
My gay friends were full of love and therefore I knew they were from God.
One of my favorite quotes I’ve heard recently is from Sheik Ehab, a historian and lecturer at Al Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem. He said,
“Stop hearing about us and start hearing from us.”
It seems not a day goes by that we’re faced with a controversy where we’re tempted to look past the people.
Big issues involving other people’s lives end up becoming abstract arguments we talk about over the dinner table.
But what if we could look at the people first? We obviously don’t want to throw our minds out of the windows, but what if we changed the order? What if we met people first, and formulated our opinions second?
What if we could stop hearing about people and start talking with them?
2 – Wilson, Ken. A Letter to My Congregation: An evangelical pastor’s path to embracing people who are gay, lesbian and transgender in the company of Jesus (Kindle Location 1018). David Crumm Media, LLC. Kindle Edition.
3 – Wilson, Ken. A Letter to My Congregation: An evangelical pastor’s path to embracing people who are gay, lesbian and transgender in the company of Jesus (Kindle Locations 1100-1104). David Crumm Media, LLC. Kindle Edition.
4- Wilson, Ken. A Letter to My Congregation: An evangelical pastor’s path to embracing people who are gay, lesbian and transgender in the company of Jesus (Kindle Locations 971-972). David Crumm Media, LLC. Kindle Edition.