My Change of Heart and Mind On Same-sex Attraction and Marriage, Rev. Al Mulder
MY LEARNING JOURNEY
Born in 1936 and having grown up in a Christian Reformed Church, I do not recall ever deciding that same sex attraction was wrong. It was just assumed! As uncritically as we may have been reading the Bible, the message was that God condemns homosexuality. As for the concept of same-sex marriage, it was not even imagined.
My first serious encounter with the subject was in 1973 when Synod decided that same-sex attraction was not sinful but that same-sex sex was. Mostly, I filed it away and preferred not to think about it. But homosexuality came up again in the timeless conversation about ordaining women to church office. Conservative voices warned: If we ordain women, next thing we’ll be ordaining homosexual persons. I was supportive of the former but could not imagine the latter.
My next major encounter was in 2006. I had turned 70, my kid sister 50, and we spent a week together on the west coast. That week, she confided to me that she was gay and in a same-sex relationship (“I fell in love, and it just happened to be a woman”). After an awkward pause, I told her I loved her, and God loved her, but that I wasn’t sure what to think. I did pledge to give it further thought and prayer, which I did sporadically.
In 2013, I dived in with James Brownson’s BIBLE, GENDER, SEXUALITY (Eerdmans, 2013). And other affirming authors. I found their arguments plausible but still had many questions.
Two years later, as clerk of Classis Grand Rapids East, it was my task to do a final edit of its 2016 study report on “The Biblical and Theological Support Currently Offered by Christian Proponents of Same-Sex Marriage.” I was relieved I didn’t have to sign it, but I was moved to begin valuing love over knowledge (1 Cor. 13). All the while, God also began bringing more LGBTQ+ Christians into my life, to the second and third generation.
Fifteen years after my kid sister came out to me, I had my own “coming out” in support of same sex marriage. Below I summarize what I have come to believe is a faithful interpretation of what the Bible does and does not say about same sex attraction and marriage.
Reformed and Always Reforming. The Christian life is a life of learning and growing; in prayer, in faith, in fruitfulness, and in better understanding what the Bible says and the context in which it says it. Peter challenges us to grow in our faith and knowledge in Christ (2 Peter 3:18), and this has been my consistent Christian experience—in my education and active ministry as well as in my retirement years. I pray that God will continue to reform us all in our posture toward same sex attraction and marriage.
Sexual Prohibitions in Scripture. .The Bible’s prohibition of same sex behavior refers primarily if not exclusively to prostitution, promiscuity, and other exploitive sexual abuses such as men molesting boys. Of course, the Bible condemns such sexual behavior. At the same time, the Bible gives no indication of condemning or even recognizing same sex attraction as an orientation, or of having any awareness of mutually committed and exclusive same sex relationships.
Creational Diversity. The Belgic Confession teaches that God makes himself known in two ways: by his holy and divine Word and through the beautiful book of the universe (cf. Article 2). A common interpretation of the Genesis story is that God’s good creation is limited to male and female. A contrasting interpretation, also informed by scientific study of that beautiful book of the universe, is that same sex orientations are not birth defects or disorders resulting from the Fall but are normal creational differences. God’s creating of male and female has developed over time into a range of diversity on the human gender and sexual orientation spectrum.
The Image of God in Everyone. Whatever our sexual orientation, all human beings are created in God’s image. May God forgive us if we regard same sex attracted persons as inferior image bearers and think of them as problems or projects undeserving of human intimacy. It is only natural for LGBTQ+ persons, as true image bearers of God, to desire physical, emotional, spiritual, and relational intimacy with another human being, and to flourish within the gifts and responsibilities of marriage as a loving, exclusive, life-long relationship.
Love Supersedes Knowledge. When Christians interpret scripture differently on disputable matters, we are cautioned by Paul’s instruction in 1st Corinthians 13, the famous chapter on love and knowledge. As important as knowledge may be, knowledge without love is a big zero (vs. 2). What’s more, knowledge is temporary (vs. 8), knowledge is partial and incomplete (vss. 9-10). What we know now is only a dull reflection of what is to come (vs.12). By contrast, love is the one ingredient that adds value to everything else (vss. 1-3). Love is patient and kind, love rejoices in truth. Love “always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres” (vss. 4, 6-7). Paul concludes: “And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love” (vs. 13). Bottom line: “Love never fails” (vs. 8).
What Christian Love Looks Like
THE NEW COMMANDMENT
Jesus said, “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” —John 13:34-35
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