Criteria for a Genuine Christian Response to Homosexuality (Part I of a Three-Part Series)

[Note, June 2016: This post was written when I was first beginning the process of trying to reconcile my past as a theologically traditional Christian and my (at that time) present as a non-believing open and affirming gay man. This post and the two others in the series mark the start of a long process, which has come to a beautiful and profound genuine reconciliation in my mind and heart. I leave the post here as is out of respect for my journey, and to the journey of others who may just be beginning. I will revisit these issues on my blog soon to more accurately reflect where I am now.]

Over the past year, I’ve had many people express their frustration at the ways the Church (broadly speaking) has handled the issue of homosexuality. Others have asked me what kind of response I think the Church should have. This is a huge question and I really don’t know how to answer it. I have deeply conflicted feelings about it. In fact, I’ve found the process of writing these three posts to be far more personally difficult than anything I’ve written on this blog to date. It has brought to the surface some old unanswerable questions that tormented me for years and reopened some wounds which have only recently begun to heal. But, as hard as it is, at the same time, writing through these thoughts has also been helpful and kathartic. I don’t presume to have answers; I don’t presume to have the right (or desire even) to tell the Church(es) what to believe or how to react; I don’t even know what I think the Church should do. But, here, and in the next post or two, are some initial offerings on the subject, which I hope will at least prompt thought.

This first post will deal with three criteria I think are required for any response if it is going to be legitimately Christian:

1. Any response must be theologically motivated. Churches and other Christian groups must be free to speak with their own voice. They must be free to preach the Truth as they see it, even if that understanding is contrary to my own or society’s as a whole. The response must be grounded in a genuine wrestling with the Scriptures and interpretive tradition in which various groups find themselves, and not based primarily on politics or activism (of left or right). Whether gay-friendly or not, it must be rooted in the vision of humanity, creation, and God espoused by Christians (no matter how that is defined by the various Christian groups). This is a right in a society of free conscience and belief, but it is also a responsibility. The stakes are high, and Christians must take great care to think things through before speaking for God one way or the other; it would indeed be a dangerous thing to bless what God would not bless; it would also be an equally dangerous thing to condemn that which God does not condemn. Christians need to take care also to apply standards consistently; to apply one law strictly while ignoring others opens them up to charges of hypocrisy and weakens their case over all.

2. Any response must be scientifically/psychiatrically informed. All too often, the Christian voice on this subject in the public square is simply — and forgive my bluntness — ignorant fear-mongering and the spread of misinformation and outright lies. This does a disservice to the faith and to the God Christians seek to honour. As the evangelicals at the forefront of the Christian liberal arts movement in the 1970s liked to say, “All truth is God’s truth.” So, when engaging society, there is no excuse for laziness or ideologically driven ignorance.

3. Any response must be pastorally responsible. A genuine Christian response to homosexuality must take the experiences and struggles of homosexuals into account in a loving, gracious, merciful, and compassionate way. Too often homosexuals are viewed as ‘problems’ rather than persons. For the bulk of the Christian community we are at worst evil and therefore our experiences irrelevant to the conversation and simply to be disregarded, and at best a serious inconvenience, a problem to be solved.  This is understandable to some extent (see the next post for why) but is also far from the example of Christ, who always engaged people on a personal level. It is also necessary to engage the gay community as equals. What I mean is that too often in the public debate, Christians act as though they are owed something, or as though it’s simply shocking that gays and lesbians don’t accept the Christian view of the world. If Christians really want to engage the issue of homosexuality they must learn to do so with humility, as though they might have something to learn as well as to teach. (Such an attitude would also be helpful from the gay community, though it’s understandable that this is not the case in the current climate of hostility.)

Why is there such a scarcity of responses that meet these three criteria? Because it’s REALLY hard to do so. So long as the answer can be “The Bible says it’s wrong” and that’s that, it’s easy. But it changes nothing. It does nothing to engage the issues or understand the circumstances of gay/lesbian/otherwise queer men and women or to help Christians with same-sex orientation remain faithful to their beliefs while retaining their sanity. On the other side, so long as the answer is “They’re born that way so let’s accept them no questions asked,” it’s also easy, but it ignores the hermeneutic, theological, and anthropological (in the philosophical, not social scientific sense of the term) implications of such a blanket acceptance. Easy answers on either side are attractive, but equally unhelpful in their own ways. While I admit to being biased on this issue, it seems to me homosexuality represents a perfect storm for Christian pastoral care. The issues are so complicated to deal with if you actually deal with them.

I’ll talk about some of these issues in the next post, which I should have up later today. (I’m splitting this into several parts because it is getting too big for easy consumption.)