This is the first installment in a series of reflections on LGBTQ+ matters.
I recently read the illuminating book, Queer Virtue: What LGBTQ People Know About Life and Love and How It Can Revitalize Christianity, by Elizabeth Edman (2016, Beacon Press), and it prompts me to reframe my thinking. For quite some time, debate within the Christian Reformed Church has focused on scriptural exegesis and on the orientation vs. practice dimensions of homosexuality. That focus has been propelled by our proclivity to get our thinking straight and to use our presumed rationality to develop formal policy. We have been content to intellectualize about these matters and to base our positions on the exegesis of a limited number of Bible passages. The time has come to shift the conversation about LGBTQ+ individuals in the Christian Reformed Church. Within the CRC and the broader Christian church, the assault on queer people in the name of religion must stop. Not only do these continuing attacks deny the inherent worth of queer people, they ignore other ways we have of knowing what is right and true, and they blaspheme God's love and mercy.
This is not the forum for a full exploration of my epistemological assertion that we have multiple ways of finding truth. Nonetheless, I think it is evident that our observation of people in our lives and in our congregations reveals that queer lives add value to our fellowship. I believe it is time to move beyond kindness, mercy, tolerance, and forgiveness as reasons for welcoming LGBTQ+ persons and instead recognize that the body of believers needs its queer brothers and sisters. Non-queer siblings benefit from seeing God at work in their LGBTQ+ siblings. The latter bring fresh expressions of faith, poignant insights into scripture, and valuable theological insights. The witness of LGBTQ+ people shapes our understanding of God and of what faith calls us to be and do.
Members of our churches for too long a time have operated with a false binary: People are either good or bad. The truth is, darkness and light coexist in each of us. We have said, “This thing you do, this same-sex relationship you have, makes you bad.” This way of thinking makes people consider the “other” as something less than Christian, maybe even something less than an image bearer of their Creator, and perhaps even causes people to despise LGBTQ+ sons and daughters of God.
People of faith and the Christian Reformed Church as institution must own this wounding it has done to fellow Christians who are queer. It is time to repent of this victimizing that is antithetical to our understanding of God's grace and instead seek forgiveness from our LGBTQ+ family members. Living in a less binary way with each other requires humility from all sides; it means making room for the possibility that your insight, your interpretation of things, may one day be found wrong.
It is time for the Church to be far more interested in how people treat each other than in doctrinal perfection or dogmatic statements about sin. Applying litmus tests for who may or may not be part of the church is not credible. Looking for those who have not been included, for whatever reason, and bringing them into the wide flow of God's mercy is a primary task of the church today.
It is not enough for churches to be welcoming and for church leaders to be kind. Instead, we must preach that demonizing LGBTQ+ believers is violent and anti-Christian. God does not require us to perfect ourselves, to free ourselves of every sin, in order to earn God's love. To the contrary, God is running towards us, while we are yet imperfect and incomplete. We accept that people of God will break the Ten Commandments, and we allow all of us commandment breakers into the church. I am not saying here that same sex orientation or same sex relationships are a sin which must be accepted as a reality just like we do other sins. I personally do not think a homosexual orientation or committed, long-term same sex unions are sinful. But for those who do believe they are, I simply think you must respond in the same way God responds to you.
We should stop our fight over the interpretation of a few passages of scripture. We are being tested in our understanding of love. It is not a test of the LGBTQ+ person's faith or of someone's desire to stop sinning and be morally pure. It is a test of our apprehension of God's grace, and of whether we have taken in the reality that God loves us as we are, despite the particularities of our own wounds, and of whether we can love as God loves.
Ultimately, if someone cannot touch others with healing hands, we must question whether that individual has understood the touch of God's healing hand and felt God's liberating love deep in the marrow of their own bones.
How fully are we loved? While we were yet sinners, God loved us. Could it be that we are so enamored of calling out sin that we have forgotten to love? LGBTQ+ folks and their allies are calling us to put down our fists, stop worrying about what some believe to be the sin of another, and instead trust that God has got this.
There is something going on here that is bigger than our understanding, and bigger than the traditional exegesis of a few passages, and bigger than our current church policy on homosexuality. That bigger thing is our understanding of God's love, and that is the very heart of our faith. What faith in God's love enables us to do is put down the whip of righteousness and put on the clothing of grace.
At a time when people are dismissing the church's authority and Christians themselves as hypocritical, LGBTQ+ persons can help the church re-establish credibility. In the Reformed tradition we make reference to a “priesthood of all believers.” Who do you understand to be a priest? Probably it is someone who makes God real to you and who invites you into sacred spaces. Do you consider queer people to be priests? Is there a way in which LGBTQ+ folks call church members into authentic Christian life? Answering affirmatively is necessary to living in community—gay, lesbian, straight, gender-nonconforming, inquiring, transitioning—all of us, together.
The time is now to expand our idea of “us”, and to remember, as Anne Lamott memorably puts it, that God loves us so much that He keeps a picture of us in His wallet. That kind of unqualified love must be our greatest aim.
From time to time a member of All One Body will post to this blog. We will also have guest commentary. Stay tuned!
Jesus Prays for All Believers: “My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one-- I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me."
John 17:20-23 (NIV)