This is the fifth installment in a series of reflections on LGBTQ+ matters.
The CRC Synod of 2016, and in particular its decisions around same sex relationships, cause me to wonder about my tradition’s strong emphasis on rules and on “knowing our sins and miseries” and what sometimes appears to be a de-emphasis on love and mercy. Why do people have such a compelling desire to name sin, when we are told so clearly that God loves us while we are yet sinners? I don’t mean to deny the reality of human sin or the importance of naming it, avoiding it, repenting of it, and seeking forgiveness. And let me be clear, I am not ceding the argument that same-sex behavior is sin. But even if you believe that it is, does that specific “sin” fall under different rules than other sins? Are those who engage in such “sin” somehow undeserving of the patience extended freely to those who sin in other ways?
Part of the reason for a strong emphasis on sin may be psychological. Lots of folks like life to be clear, especially about our ethical choices. It’s so much easier if we know exactly what we may and may not do. Tell me the rules and I will try to live by them perfectly, and woe to those who make it obvious to me that they are not following the rules. God hates sin, right?
Such binary thinking about right and wrong easily can become distorted. For example, because none of us follows all the rules perfectly, our personal imperfections can become, in the recesses of our minds, self-loathing. And if we can’t forgive ourselves and fully take in God’s forgiveness, how will we ever extend forgiveness to anyone else?
A truth about us is that we are God’s beloved. Even though nothing about us is hidden from God, God loves us anyway. That’s such wonderful news that it’s hard to absorb. Furthermore, it’s humiliating to have our imperfections seen. Our embarrassment makes us want to hide. Yet, God’s mercy washes over us like a waterfall. The drips of our baptism are but a tiny symbol of the deluge of grace that God extends! Because we are lavishly loved, we no longer have to worry about putting on some sort of disguise of righteousness.
Once we are conscious of this reality, it becomes unnecessary to look microscopically at anyone else to find their flaws and call them to perfect living. Recognizing our own need for mercy and knowing in our bones that God’s mercy is already available to us more completely than we’d ever imagined, allows us to be compassionate with others rather than judgmental.
This is the fourth installment in a series of reflections on LGBTQ+ matters.
The conversation in the church around LGBTQ+ matters is an opportunity for us to examine our hearts. Viewing the discussion as a threat leads to fear responses in which some voices are silenced, and the power of some over others is exerted. But viewing this particular situation as an occasion to look at one’s own motivations and fears can lead to changes in the ways we live with each other in the presence of all of our imperfections and differences.
What changes our hearts? It’s recognizing our own personal need for God’s mercy and realizing that God loves us as we are. God’s generosity toward us is inexhaustible. If you can take in the truth that you are loved that seriously, then love toward others cannot help but spill out of you.
Conversely, if you find yourself impatient with others who have different ideas about what is ethical, if you judge the actions of others without compassion, if you put your energies into creating policies that condemn and exclude people from fellowship, if you believe it is your job to vigorously defend the purity of faith against anything you perceive to be immoral , then consider the possibility that you may have a distorted heart. You may, in fact, have failed to apprehend the radical nature of God’s love for you, which, once you’ve taken it in, will transform your heart and the way in which you live with others. You will become a conduit for others to God’s capacious heart.
This is the third installment in a series of reflections on LGBTQ+ matters.
The famed psychologist Erik Erikson wrote that a fundamental need that humans have is to belong. We need to feel we are beloved to our mothers and fathers and families. We need to feel that we have friends who want us to be their friends. We want to feel that we are integral to others with whom we share neighborhoods, classrooms, and places of worship. Deprived of a sense of belonging, people will distort themselves in order to be part of a group or to have a relationship.
Belonging is fundamental to our faith as well. We believe that so strongly that we say out loud often and in each other’s presence that our only comfort, in life and in death, is that we belong to our faithful Savior. I don’t literally think that belonging to God is our only comfort for it is clearly evident that God comforts us with gifts of human love and many other things. Belonging to God who will never be separate from us is our ultimate comfort, however, and the source from which our earthly comforts come.
If God is inclusive enough to embrace all except those who reject God, how can we be anything less with each other. God doesn’t say to us, “You must earn your belonging.” God doesn’t say, “Only those who are without sin and thus earn their belonging are mine.” God does say, “I love you because you are mine.” Can you believe it? Before you knew it, before you were in your mother’s womb even, God already knew your soul and loved you. And while we are still less than our Creator wants of us, God still loves us like crazy.
In the face of that kind of belonging, I cannot help but look in the face of another and remember that they belong too. They—the returning citizen, the Muslim refugee, the transgendered person, the nonbinary child, the woman with a wife and man with a husband—they all belong. Those whom Jesus calls “brothers and sisters” belong to me too. They belong to my faith community. They belong with me to our faithful Savior. No longer strangers, no longer aliens, but like children at home.
This is the second installment in a series of reflections on LGBTQ+ matters.
The Reformed tradition of Christianity has placed strong value on a particular way of knowing things. We pride ourselves in being careful thinkers. Knowing things through our minds, and putting our thoughts into words, and exegeting the Word has led to great insights of faith. It also has led to dogmatism about what we know and a constant vigilance about orthodoxy, i.e., right ways of thinking. And it has led to neglect of other ways of knowing truth, and the Truth, and to a loss at times of the bigger picture, the gestalt.
The mystical tradition of Christianity, much older than Reformation thought, has been lost to many present-day Christians. We need to regain our ability to see mystery. We need both things, really. We need faith between our ears that expresses itself in textbooks and propositions. And we also need faith that is less about head knowledge and more about knowing in our bones. We need the faith we experience when the Spirit moves us beyond words. We need faith that emphasizes love as the driving force, the center, the greatest of these.
When people on all sides of contentious issues cannot love one another, it means we have not gotten the big picture clear yet. When we fail to make room for discerning people to conclude divergent things about what the Scriptures are teaching about the origins of gender fluidity, the permissibility of same-sex relationships, the primacy of gender complementarity, and the like, then we are missing the overarching truth that love wins. Not doctrinal precision. Not rightness. Not sinlessness. Not grace and truth, but grace as ultimate truth. Love wins!
If the institutional church is to thrive, it must come to this revolutionary way of experiencing anew what God keeps doing with us over and over. God loves us like a great parent, in the presence of all our flaws. This is Christianity’s core knowledge, and it is transformative for how we live together and how we represent God to the world.
From time to time a member of All One Body will post to this blog. We will also have guest commentary. Stay tuned!