Normally when I post things to this blog, I read them over once and then hit publish. This post has been through multiple edits and revisions in an attempt to make sure I am being thorough and respectful and effectively conveying my thoughts. It’s long. Really really long. Sorry I’m not sorry :)
The past few weeks have been full of conversations about gender and sexuality and their relationship to Christianity and the church. From the rising visibility of transgender issues to the Supreme Court’s historic ruling on marriage equality, there have been plenty of opinions on social media and many, many different perspectives both from within and outside the church.
I’m not here to talk about the SCOTUS decision or what our secular government should be doing; I think I’ve made my view on that abundantly clear (if you’re not sure, just go scroll through my Facebook page). But what’s happening in politics is causing a lot of discussion within the church and amongst my friends.
Because I choose my friends well and pretty selectively curate my social media feeds, I have managed to glimpse the extreme hatred mostly just in my peripheral vision. Thankfully the people I associate with are generally not the ones using the SCOTUS ruling to proclaim the end times or shouting “death to gays” or lamenting the end of American supremacy or whatever (at least not publicly anyway).
What I have seen a lot of, though, are attempts to be loving while also being incredibly pedantic about Christian beliefs and the Bible. Some of these responses were written by my friends themselves, while others were written by prominent pastors/bloggers/etc. and just posted by people I know. Either way, I have some words for the people writing and posting these things.
First, I greatly appreciate that you are approaching this issue from a place of love. For many of you, I know that the love you are talking about is authentic and real because my real life interactions with you have been consistently loving. For others, I am giving you the benefit of the doubt because I try to do that with people. (For a few who have issues with tone, I’m giving you a strong side-eye at your use of the word “love” and restraining myself from adding this to the comments:
I do hope you understand, however, that many people who do not know you in real life and have not actually been loved in real life by Christians are going to respond with skepticism to your assertion that your words come from a place of love. Until the church is consistently providing safe places for LGBTQ teens who are kicked out of their homes and supporting depressed/suicidal LGBTQ people with services other than conversion therapy and actually building relationships with LGBTQ people outside of seeing them as a “mission field”, your words of love are going to ring hollow. I’m not saying your words are not sincere; just making sure that you understand how they will be perceived in light of the church’s historical (and continuing) treatment of LGBTQ people.
Secondly, some thoughts on your explanations of theology and the Bible and Christian teaching. I think I get where you’re coming from. I really do. I’m a teacher; I understand the urge to explain things. You see a group of people who have different views than you, and in your attempt to be loving you assume those views come from ignorance or a lack of exposure to the gospel. And maybe sometimes that is the case. But I’m wondering who you are speaking to in these posts.
Are you speaking to LGBTQ non-Christians? If you are, I’m gonna tell you right now – I doubt they’re listening. Most of them are going to see Christianity and same-sex relationships mentioned in one headline and keep on scrolling. The church has been very loud about same-sex relationships for a very long time; most LGBTQ people assume they already know what you’re going to say. If that’s your audience, you’d be better off actually being friends with some LGBTQ non-Christians – and by friends, I mean actual friends. Not using them as your token friend or starting a friendship with an ulterior motive. Non-Christians are people; not projects (but that’s a topic that needs a whole separate post).
Are you speaking to Christians under your leadership who have questions about what the Bible says about same-sex relationships? Cool. Then address your post to them and not to LGBTQ people. You might be better off having these conversations in person though, where there can be an actual conversation and not just the 7th circle of hell that is internet comment sections. You may also want to include your sources. Who decided that was the correct interpretation of Genesis 1 and 2? Who decided the best translation of that word was homosexuality? All Scripture is God-breathed, but translation and interpretation is a human endeavor. Are you really seeking to inform, or just convince people to agree with you?
Finally, and as I suspect for many of you, are you speaking to LGBTQ and LGBTQ-affirming Christians in your posts? Because this is when things get a bit pedantic. I have seen a lot of assertions and insinuations, even in very lovingly and carefully worded posts, that if a Christian is LGBTQ or LGBTQ-affirming, they must have an incomplete understanding of the gospel or do not value Scripture. If this is your intended audience, your post sounds like you are trying to educate fellow Christians on how to be an actual Christian, as if our views on sexuality are some sort of litmus test for authentic salvation.
I get that you may be trying to educate people, and responding to a different opinion with education can be a great way to have a discussion, but only if both sides are willing to listen. Here’s the thing: I was raised in the church. I know the arguments against same-sex relationships. I know the arguments about complementarianism. I know the arguments about why women shouldn’t be pastors or speak in church.
But up until a few years ago, I didn’t know the arguments for the other side. And yes, there are Christian, biblical arguments for the other side of all of those issues. It was reading those arguments that changed my perspective. Christians who ascribe to egalitarianism and believe that women can be pastors and affirm the LGBTQ community (or any combination of those things) have not necessarily thrown away the Bible. We have not been swayed by the world’s values or rejected the authority of Scripture or started down the dreaded “slippery slope” toward lawlessness or whatever else your impression is. We are simply interpreting the Bible differently than you.
Look, it is literally my job to interpret text and to teach others how to interpret text. In my classroom we mostly read books that were originally written in English and that are at most 400 years old (the one exception would be the Odyssey). All of these texts have tons more text written about them with varying interpretations and opinions. And when it comes to something older or something translated, things get even trickier. I can read two different translations of the exact same passage from Antigone and they can have completely different connotations. Even when we read A Thousand Splendid Suns, a book from 2008, my resident and I will have discussions about the meaning and importance of particular passages when we plan what to share with our students.
Theologians and scholars have debated all kinds of things for as long as there have been theologians and scholars. It’s why we have denominations. But one of the things that has made me grow very weary in the evangelical church is this insistence on having all the answers. Everyone is so sure the Bible is clear and that they have the right interpretation and all the theologians who agree with them are good and all the theologians who disagree with them are misinterpreting things.
Now before you start quoting things at me and talking about church history and traditional interpretations, let me just stop you. Church history is important and should absolutely be valued and probably actually needs to be taught a lot more than it is. But do not pretend that Augustine and Luther and Calvin were perfectly objective individuals whose interpretations of Scripture were completely unaffected by the politics and culture of their times. The church leaders who excommunicated Galileo thought they were interpreting the Bible objectively and accurately, as did the white church leaders who supported and encouraged the practice of slavery and the continued enforcement of Jim Crow laws.
There are so many factors that play into translation and interpretation. Genre matters, setting matters, author’s purpose matters, original audience matters. Our own context and our own experiences inform the way we read and interpret anything. That’s just part of being human: we do the best we can with the knowledge we have, and when we know better, hopefully we do better (yes, I’m shamelessly paraphrasing that quote that’s attributed to Maya Angelou).
I’m not exactly without a dog in this fight. As an asexual woman who finds her gender to be about as useful a label as her zodiac sign, my story does not follow what so many both implicitly and explicitly describe as God’s best. For many years, I wondered whether I was broken and questioned my salvation because I couldn’t seem to be the kind of Christian woman I was “supposed” to be. When I started listening to and reading other Christian perspectives on gender and sexuality and accepting that those aspects of me might be different than the norm, it did not feel like I was walking away from God. Rather, it felt like I was finally becoming the person God made me to be. Yes, there has been loneliness involved in the process and some feelings of isolation from the church, but there has also been incredible peace. To hear others characterize what has been a very sweet and life-giving season as me compromising my faith has been really, really hard.
So my question is this – have you considered the other side? Have you read about the history of same-sex relationships, and how what we use that phrase to describe is vastly different from what Paul was talking about in Romans and 1 Corinthians? Have you considered that many of the verses that are traditionally interpreted as being about same-sex relationships might actually be about sexual violence and the lack of consent? Have you thought about how our understanding of Genesis 1 & 2 and gender roles within marriage has been influenced by hundreds of years of patriarchal society in which women were considered as little more than property?
Chances are most LGBTQ and LGBTQ-affirming Christians have heard your arguments. Have you heard theirs?
If you are interested, here are some places you might start:
Ben Irwin answers the 40 questions posed by Kevin DeYoung in his Gospel Coalition post
Matthew Vines asks 40 questions of his own
The Reformation Project has lots of resources and information
The ladies at A Queer Calling provide a particularly unique perspective that I have found incredibly enlightening
Matthew Vines, Eliel Cruz, Dianna E. Anderson, and Rachel Held Evans have all talked about issues related to gender and sexuality in various places, both online and in print (there are others, of course; these are basically the ones I follow on Twitter).
If you noticed my mention of asexuality and are wondering what the heck that is, start here. If you have legitimate questions about me personally that are not answered there, ask away. If you have rude/invasive questions about things that are none of your business, just don’t.