This is the ninth installment in a series of reflections on LGBTQ+ matters.
Some students worry so much about meeting the expectations of their teachers that they miss the point of learning activities. Questions like “How many words must be in this essay?” and “Do we need to know this for the test?” and “May I skip class without hurting my grade?” can reveal a preoccupation with following rules. The worry, of course, is that not following the rules will lead to punishing consequences.
Some people approach the LGBTQ conversation with the same mindset. “What are the rules about same-sex behavior?” they want to know. “Are there clear ethical guidelines in scripture about who people may marry?” “Can we allow known rule-breakers to be ordained as elders, deacons, or preachers?” they ask, conveniently ignoring that every ordained person, and every non-ordained church member, is a rule-breaker of one kind or another.
A rule-bound orientation reveals, dare I say it, distrust in God. People too focused on rule-breaking mostly see God as the almighty authority whose primary concern is with punishment for violations of Divine standards. They fail to see that what God wants most is to give us what we most want: Love. Can you trust that this is what God really wants most of all?
Henri Nouwen teaches in his book Here and Now that the word obedience comes from a Latin word, ob-audire, which means “to listen with great attentiveness.” When we are not attentive to God’s voice of love, persistently spoken throughout the Bible, we become too focused on how we can earn God’s love by perfectly following the rules. In failing to let love be our greatest aim, we are disobedient. We fail to hear that God-With-Us wants to give us what our hearts most desire. God is our Lover who wants nothing more than for us to live in, and never impede, the flow of that love. Listen with great attentiveness.
This is the eighth installment in a series of reflections on LGBTQ+ matters.
Proponents of a gentler, more hospitable approach to fellow Christians who are LGBTQ are sometimes criticized for having a soft kind of love and maybe even of offering “cheap grace” to unrepentant sinners. The critics claim that truly loving someone is to show them the error of their ways so as to save them from perdition.
I detest the moral arrogance that leads to things like scarlet letters, burning at the stake, disapprobation for those choosing divorce, and shunning of anyone who persists in sin. In a current instance, some of the righteous seem to harbor particular distaste for anyone committing sexual sin, of which there are many varieties, of course, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity.
A few decades ago, a friend was made to stand in front of her consistory and confess the sexual sin that resulted in her pregnancy before marriage. This precocious eighteen-year-old had the temerity not only to repent of that sin, but she confessed to the assembled leaders her violation of several other commandments as well. I wonder if anyone recalled Jesus’ instruction about casting stones. I recall a poem by Sietze Bunning about the pious elder Marius who, when his unmarried daughter was discovered to be carrying a child, described his own precious child as “having loved too well.” How different things are when we know them from the inside. How different things look when we admit our own struggles with sin.
Rather than arguing, using acute exegesis, about whether same sex behavior is sinful, would it not be better to love each other too well, not to condone what might be an offense, but to walk with charity, good will and kindness in the world instead of with retributive harshness? The LGBTQ community invites sisters and brothers in Christ to be hospitable to themselves, and to the beauty and complexity in people they meet.
Purity codes do not seem to be called for in a New Testament world where God says to us all, “I’ve got you covered!” What a relief to take off cloaks of self-righteousness and find compassion for each other in our own imperfection. What a blessing we could be if we emptied ourselves of our indignation over the alleged Ten Commandment violations of others in order to embrace our siblings with humble awareness of our own broken ways, and of God’s broad mercy.
This is the seventh installment in a series of reflections on LGBTQ+ matters.
One facet of the conversation about welcoming persons described as LGBTQ into congregations is the matter of sin. Concisely stated, some think that a sexually active same-sex lifestyle is sin; and others do not. For those who think it is sin, even within long-term, committed relationships, a failure to be repentant is a further moral shortcoming that disqualifies one from complete acceptance and participation in the total life of the church.
Much has been said by sincere, thoughtful people in defense of both ways of viewing same-sex behavior. Strong arguments for both positions are not likely at this point in the conversation to be persuasive. A middle way needs to be found that allows people of integrity to live with the position of the other.
Perhaps a way can be found by thinking deeply about sin. Here are some key thoughts that may help us live with what we perceive to be the sinfulness of the other, and to live with ourselves despite our own sinfulness.
First, sin corrupts our best human capacities—kindness, generosity, patience—and instead the perceived flaws of others become targets of attack, and those persons become the objects of our defection or neglect. As Neal Plantinga points out in his book, Not the Way It’s Supposed to be - A Breviary of Sin, “When we put others on a tight moral budget while making plenty of allowances for ourselves…we exhibit a corruption of emotion, intention, speech and disposition. By such abuse of our highest powers, we who are fearfully and wonderfully made, we creatures of special dignity and responsibility, evoke not only grief and consternation but also blame.” (p.3)
Sin can be thought of as that which corrupts and disrupts what is good. Long-term, monogamous same-sex relationships can display the beauty of commitment and mutual support that Christians have long seen as the intent for heterosexual marriage. Rather than corrupting the good, same-sex unions can be as much a force for good in our fractured world as successful traditional marriages.
To speak of sin without grace is to ignore the magnanimity of God; but it is also a distortion to speak of grace without sin. The truth of God’s grace is cheapened by trivializing sin just as making sin central reduces grace to a place of lesser importance than the offense that necessitates it. Since none of us are without sin, it may be better—a third way—to concentrate on one’s own penitence and need for grace, and to be less insistent and impatient about another’s.
This is the sixth installment in a series of reflections on LGBTQ+ matters.
In my childhood our minister used to read the Ten Commandments every Sunday in dramatic fashion. Moses coming down from Mt. Sinai couldn’t have done it more effectively. I wondered watchfully whether thunder and lightning might show up.
Rarely do I have that kind of fear in church these days. No longer do we sternly warn unrepentant people about “eating and drinking judgment unto themselves” during communion. Our current, kinder invitations to the table are more likely to refer to “those who are truly sorry for their sins.” Similarly, our funeral services are no longer filled with dire warnings about how those of us still here should be living our lives. It appears that fire and brimstone are no longer in our seminary curricula. It’s been boxed up along with “What a worm am I” theology, opened for inspection now and again, but no longer the driving force it was to earlier Calvinists.
Nonetheless, remnants remain of past preoccupations. Some congregations hesitate to nominate divorced persons for church office. If a young couple is “living in sin”, neither one is very welcome in the church choir. If someone’s child expresses a desire to identify as something other than the gender assigned to them at birth, we have trouble getting past “male and female created He them.” Women with wives aren’t often pictured together in the church directory.
Is it possible, and maybe even true to scripture, for us to worry a little less about sin—not abandon it, mind you, but find a proper emphasis for it? Neal Plantinga wrote a book-length exposition of the nature of our sin, somewhat amusingly subtitled A Breviary of Sin. I recommend this book, Not the Way It’s Supposed to Be, if you are interested in a deeper understanding of what sin can look like. But seriously, how about some balance? We need it all, don’t we? We need the Law and the Gospel. We need to know how we’ve messed up and also how God takes care of it. Arguably, we may need assurance of forgiveness before we can totally own up to our brokenness. My former pastor, Roger Van Harn, argued that we need assurance before confession.
So how are we to live with our own messes as well as our neighbor’s? With kindness, not condemnation. Call it “messy solidarity.”
Think of those people who have helped you the most. Is it the moralists who are quick to warn and give advice? I think more often it is those who give us hope by showing us in their words and manner that they too experience the human condition in all its complexity and perplexity. They bring us healing and strength because they do not run away in the face of our imperfections, or their own. Paradoxically, we help each other heal our wounds when we are in solidarity with each other in the middle of our struggles. When we walk side by side and listen rather than speak, and seek to understand rather than judge, it is then that we can give—and receive—the compassion mediated for us by Jesus Christ.
From time to time a member of All One Body will post to this blog. We will also have guest commentary. Stay tuned!