Disclaimer: I know this is a touchy subject for some, but the idea here is not to start an argument. My desire is to illustrate what it means to wrestle with Scripture, and this is not only something I have wrestled with (as you will read below), but also something our Evangelical culture is wrestling with. Please note any comments that are outwardly discriminative or offensive to either view will be deleted. Let’s be peaceful about this, and let’s all make it a desire to communicate instead of dominate in the responses to this blog. And before I go any further I want to thank everyone who helped me wrestle with Scripture this past year, whether we agreed or not. Being willing to listen and help me process information is what mattered, so thank you for your willingness to be a guide to me. So without further ado…
In the last couple of years, the conversation on the topic of whether or not salvation of the sexually active members of the LGBT community can take place has intensified. For the first time, I had to face this subject straight on because I am a pastor leading others. I can’t merely say, “It doesn’t matter, just love” because others will look to me to see what I find to be true and will look to my example. I had to find out what I believed for myself.
While growing up, I had always been taught homosexuality was a sin, an abomination, and a pathway to hell. I’m not one to make a judgment of someone else’s eternal salvation. I am aware of Jesus’ words that cut to the throat of the Pharisees who liked to judge others around them because of their own self-righteousness. As I read the Gospels, I no longer found myself able to openly say homosexuality is a sin. Why? There are too many stories of Jesus sitting with the outcasts. Jesus even says he comes for the sick not for those who think they are righteous. (Luke 5:29-32) And one passage from the Gospels has always kept me from claiming anyone is going to hell. (Matthew 21:28-32) The strong conflict between what I was raised to believe and what I found in The Bible started stirring in my mind every time the word; “homosexuality” entered any given conversation.
A year ago, I purchased a book by Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. entitled, “Strength to Love”. This book is a collection of his sermons where he addresses political issues of his day. He challenged people to rise above hatred and to love, as a way to fight the struggles of this world. In order to make the sermons more relevant to today, I changed Vietnam to Iraq to help get a solid understanding of his theology of pacifism. I interchanged white and black to homosexual and heterosexual, so not only was I reading it to understand racism but also to understand the discrimination against sexual orientation that has arisen in our nation today. From this book I was truly challenged to love ALL people. I was challenged to see ALL people as equal.
At this point, I was sincerely starting to question if homosexuality was any more of a sin than being black. If homosexuality is an orientation, then naturally, it’s not more sinful than being black. It’s just how one is born. This is where the real wrestling started to begin in my life. This is where the inner turmoil began to bubble up and confuse me. Reading arguments on Facebook became outrageously upsetting. Listening to people say gays were going to hell made me want to scream. At the same time, my theology was lacking. What did I believe? What would Jesus do? How can I find truth? And for crying out loud, “What does The Bible teach on this topic!”
I turned to the political world. I listened to conservative Christians. I listened to liberal Christians. I did not see how either view stood solidly in theology. We can’t go by what “The Bible says” alone because there’s a lot of things The Bible says that I don’t believe, for example, women will be saved through childbirth. (I Timothy 2:15) On the other side of the argument I found myself wondering why certain passages of Scripture were suddenly being interpreted differently than I had ever heard before. And the whole stance on forced celibacy made me absolutely angry; after all, single people are forced into celibacy as well. Why is it okay to change the thoughts on celibacy for homosexuals, but not for singles? How is that consistent? Well, it’s not. So, I personally believe neither view is complete in Scripture interpretation. This only caused more confusion for me.
My inner turmoil surged and I often felt like a volcano. People were asking me what I believed, and in those moments, I wanted to erupt and spew lava everywhere! I was so frustrated at my own inability to make a decision. Why couldn’t I just decide? Why couldn’t the answer just appear in black and white? Where was the blueprint?
It was at this point I decided I needed a break. Frustration always stops the learning process. ALWAYS! If I were to know what I believed, I needed to defuse and reenter the topic later. I left Facebook groups that intensified my emotions and tried to avoid the topic as much as possible.
The frustration lingered onto me like that single hair that lingers in your mouth because you can’t find it to pull it out. It took me approximately three months before I was able to pull the hair out of my mouth and defuse entirely. Finally, my mind was mostly clear. Yet, I was still reluctant to I dive back into the topic again. The frustration had been too overwhelming and I didn’t want to go there again.
I returned to college, and entered my very first class and in my textbook entitled, “Jesus is Lord” by Kenneth Schenck, something powerful stood out to me. I was at our last pastors’ retreat, sitting in the glow of a hotel lamp, when it became clear to me, like a big bang coming into place in my head. Everything suddenly came together. You see, in Acts, Romans, and in other Pauline Epistles there was a great debate on circumcision. And “a great debate” is an understatement. It was an explosion in the Jewish world. At that point in time, Christians were still considered a sect of Judaism. After Christ’s resurrection, we see an inclusion of Christ’s mercy and love into the Jewish belief where exclusion once stood. This upset the Jews, because they claimed, “WE are God’s chosen people! WE have been following rules and laws for centuries! What have THOSE Gentiles done? Why they aren’t even circumcised! And everyone KNOWS God made a covenant with Abraham so that ONLY those who were circumcised could be a part of God’s chosen people. If they want to be a part of us, circumcision is the ONLY way. God will NOT meet with the uncircumcised for it is against The Law of the Old Testament!”
So it became a two person team: Peter and Paul. Peter ministers to the Jews, and Paul to the Gentiles, and they try to close the gap and bring the two together. Paul teaches by saying ALL have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. (Romans 3:23) That’s right Jews; you are not more righteous than the Gentiles. We ALL are messed up and are in need of God’s mercy. As the Jews refused to listen he would try different theological angles over and over again to try and get them to see, they were ALL equal. Paul even went as far back to Adam to say we ALL come from sin, and that from Jesus, we ALL can have redemption. Jew and Gentile alike (I Corinthians 15:20-34)!
Now, it became clear to me why one of the commandments is, “thou shall not covet.” The Jews were coveting the ‘free ride’ that the Gentiles were receiving into God’s Kingdom. Suddenly, I saw the connection. We as Christians today aren’t that far off. We are the new Jews. We always have that ONE group we send away and say, “The Bible says” and ride them off as going to hell. During the Catholic Crusades, it was any Protestant. In Rev. King’s day, it was believed that integrating blacks and whites in public places (even in the churches) was against God’s will and they would go to hell. Interracial marriages were a big uproar for a while. People were ONLY to marry within their own race or else they would go to hell. Now, it’s the LGBT Community being told they are going to hell. And all of these accusations were defended by a 66 book collection called, “The Holy Bible”, and it was all stated in the Name of God… *gulp* that makes me extremely nervous…
A few more classes down the road, I was to write an interpretation of Romans 8:26-27. I was hesitant to write what I truly felt about the topic, but I did. I wrote that this controversy with the LGBT community is not new. This controversy has been going on for centuries. In fact, the only things that have changed are the terms “Jew” and “Gentile”. My teacher responded by saying I had great understanding of the Scripture, and then made this comment at the bottom of my paper, “It is true that one must never allow particulars (truths) to inform universal truth; universals must always inform the particulars.”
Later, I read about Cornelius in Acts 10-11, and it struck a very strong chord in my heart. Cornelius, an uncircumcised Gentile received The Holy Spirit and so did many other Gentiles. The circumcised Jews were shocked because they had not invited the Gentiles into their belief structure, not because God wouldn’t accept them.
That’s when I decided, this ends with me.
I believe members of the LGBT community are born with their sexual orientation. I believe God loves them. I believe homosexual sexual activity kept in a monogamous marital relationship is not a sin. I believe God can talk with those in the LGBT community and can work through them. I believe they can be saved by the Gospel of Jesus Christ. I believe they are my equal. I believe there is no heart where God’s mercy cannot reach.
Some may ask, “What if you’re wrong?” My response is, “First of all, I prayed consistently, and I felt the Holy Spirit guiding me throughout the entire process and you can’t convince me otherwise. Secondly, I chose to love my neighbor more than I love being right.” Some may say, “God is a just Judge.” My response is, “You’re right. There is a God who is the just Judge, and we’re not Him.” Some may think I made this decision in order to join the world. My response is, “This wrestling took nearly a year. Don’t you think if I just wanted to join the popular crew, my decision would have just happened with a snap of my fingers and without question?”
To those of you who are in the LGBT community, I ask first for the forgiveness of my ignorance and of my sin towards your community. Secondly, I ask forgiveness on behalf of The Church. We have been hateful towards you. We have said awful things. God calls us to love others. When our arms were supposed to be outstretched and welcoming, you found hatred, judgment, and anger. Please forgive us, we are wrong.
To those who are wrestling with this, please keep wrestling. It’s never easy, but it is ALWAYS worth it! And I encourage you to seek out a Christian in the LGBT community if possible, because whether we heterosexuals want to admit it or not, we really aren’t the experts on this topic, they are!