Recently a friend emailed me and asked me if I thought they should go see Brokeback Mountain, they wanted to but also had questions about if they should because it might be supporting something they don’t believe in.
As a new pastor in New York City, I have been thinking and praying for some time of how I will handle this incredibly important and controversial area of human community.
Here is what I have arrived at right now (and I look forward to developing it through your comments); that there has been so much hurt and pain perpetrated on the gay community by the church, that we should do whatever we can to limit that and then heal that, so we can make Jesus beautiful to humans he died for that happen to be homosexual or who don’t identify themselves as homosexual or a member of the gay community but, as they might say, struggle with homosexual feelings.
How that plays out is a long unwritten story that we will have to figure out as we go.
But my basic, I hope progressive, stance is that the church is guilty of hurting people and thereby blocking people from Jesus, and so we must make up for that special sin by going out of our way with special "policies" whenever issues come up that are connected to the particular groups we have hurt. So, that means doing whatever we can to change our language and approach and relation to the gay community, by putting healing as the top priority in that relation, with an emphasis on our wrongdoing, before even considering their doing.
For example, if someone asked me as a pastor, a public leader, what is my "position on homosexuality"? I would answer that question in a different way than if they asked me what my position on stealing was. Why? Because the church has not perpetrated hatred in particular on burglars.
Burglars pretty much feel open to go to church if they have questions about their lifestyle. When they come to my church, I can tell them, "Stealing is wrong because it hurts others, and estranges you from the God who loves the ones you hurt. Stealing someone’s things is by definition unloving towards them. Being loving towards others is God’s ultimate priority and providing a loving place for you to learn how to do that is one of the major purposes of the church".
But because the church has perpetrated hate in particular upon homosexuals, and I know as a result they are not open to go to church if they have questions about their lifestyle, I have to take special steps to make up for that. I have to heal the wounds that the church has inflicted before I can expect to have a voice with the wounded – because one of the major purposes of the church is to be a loving place that teaches us how to be loving.
So, here is my special step to make up for the hatred inflicted, to bring healing, and to mitigate my possibility of blocking a person from seeing Jesus:
Question: Pastor Jeff, what is your position on homosexuality?
Answer: I am far more concerned about the fifty people in my congregation who have a problem with internet porn, than I am about the five who may have questions about homosexuality.
Question: Yeah, great, but what about homosexuality, is it wrong?
Answer: Human sexuality is a huge area that we all deal with. I'm sure that when a married man sleeps with a married woman who is not his wife that those two families are going to be deeply affected by that wrong expression of human sexuality.
I am sure that the hours many men spend wasting their lives on internet porn are keeping them from developing their sexuality in a community building way, and that the industry they support which takes economically disadvantaged women and employs them by broadcasting their naked image worldwide is soul and community destroying.
As a pastor, it is my strong desire to bring personal spiritual vitality to people, and to mitigate community destroying actions. Human sexuality is at the heart of our communities, and the gospel of Jesus attempts to get all of us to love one another and build a healthy community where we are all cared for and loved. My role is to point people to Jesus, and when they learn how to pray and experience his presence in their lives, and to receive power from him to make loving others well their highest priority, I believe they will learn how to live with and live out their strong sexual desires in ways that build up their families and communities, and to exercise self control when needed.
If a person comes to me and asks me about their personal sexual desires, frustrations and struggles, my basic stance is to understand that the human heart is a deep mystery, and that I cannot possibly understand the fullness of who they are and what they've been through in a relatively short period of time during a pastoral counseling session, so I do my best to point them to Jesus who made them, loves them, redeemed them, and wants to spend the rest of their life teaching them how to live in this community of humans here on earth.
If I portray that I know what “acceptable behavior” is, and they simply follow what I say, I am sure that they will live a diminished life. But if I can get them to engage Jesus, I can be sure they will live an expanded life.
Things might be different in terms of me being more directly explicit about my own particular understanding of how God wants us to live out our human sexuality if they come and join in communion with me over a long period of time, where I will have an opportunity to communicate much about God to them not through intellectual concepts but through living alongside them in life, and by allowing them to see how I follow Jesus day to day. But that kind of communication only happens in real time over many years and cannot be reduced to words in an article on a particular topic.
Question: So pastor Jeff, it seems like you are trying to skirt the gay issue, you are avoiding the question.
Answer: The church has perpetrated a special focus on the issue of homosexuality in a way that it has not on other issues like…
or internet porn usage
or being consumed by the need to own products
or thriving on political rhetoric that helps you
but obscures you from seeing how it harms others,
…and so I am trying to bring healing to the humans that have been the victims of that particular form of branding and exclusion by asking why are we so focused on bashing gays, when we don't even care that all the adulterers in our midst are causing much more damage to our society?
When I see people carrying signs that say, “God hates faggots”, after I get over the emotional trauma of seeing such hate perpetrated in the name of God, my next question is, why don’t they ever bother carrying a sign that says…
“God hates countries that have 5% of the population, but consume 20% of its resources”
“God hates fathers that destroy their families by sleeping with other families mothers”
“God hates photographers that photograph poor naked women and sell those photos on the internet, and the people who buy them”
“God hates humans who make skin color a basis for hating other humans”
“God hates when rich comfortable people build political parties that protect their wealth and don’t care for the poor and then brand that party with the imprimatur of religion by making religious freedom one of its secondary focuses”
“God hates more than anything else when people use religion, when they use his name to treat people in a way that they would not want to be treated”
I’m ranging my focus towards multiple issues to make a point that when you allow the one group that is doing more damage to get off scot free, and instead you focus on the smaller less important group, it brings up a simple question - what is your agenda and why?
The answer, I think, is the simple human tendency to hate and exclude others who are different. Adulterers blend in well; homosexuals stand out more and make us uncomfortable just like Jews and Blacks have when they have been in the minority throughout history, and have been excluded.
That sin of hate by the people of God is far greater than any other sin in the world bar none, and the only way stop it in its tracks is for me to take special steps to speak out more on the big important sins, and to give a break to the formerly excluded group by not speaking out about them at all.
(theological note: the bible makes clear that hating someone is the same as murdering them, and so how different, from a biblical perspective, is hating an entire group like homosexuals, from genocide? The bible also makes clear that any sin perpetrated by religious leaders upon others is the kind of sin that makes God the most pissed off - actually pissed off is to light, it makes God angry at his core, when his agenda of loving others sacrificially is co-opted to exclude and hate. If you are a person that feels offended by the “Anger of God” in the bible, I can assure you that you haven’t read it well because in almost all cases that anger is directed at religious people for perpetrating sin or injustice in his name – and because of this undeniable truth religious people must always keep themselves under suspicion, and the non-religious should rejoice that they often actually "get it" better than the religious).
So, to begin the process of healing the wounds that were caused by the church exerting hate and exclusion upon the gay community, I choose to simply stop using all language, which in discussing the topic of human sexuality of same sex intercourse, could be interpreted as exclusionary by the just sensitivities of people that have felt excluded and hated.
It is similar to how we have learned to stop using the word, “Them”, when referring to people of other races because of how it makes a separation.
There are differences between white and black people, both culturally (food, music, humorous banter) and physically (skin color), and someday when racism is gone we will be able to talk more naturally about those neutral differences, just as we do now about regional differences – the differences between Minnesotans and Iowans don’t raise issues or feelings of hate and exclusion and so we are comfortable discussing and joking about them. But for now, we should avoid that kind of talk between races because the exclusion it causes still stings with reverberations of hatred.
Maybe in ten or twenty years, having enjoyed the release from the glaring focus of all the lights on them, people who have questions about how their sexual lifestyle affects them and the community they live in, will feel that the church is a good place to go for answers, because at the church they will expect to find Jesus.
[update: the first commenter brings up an embarassingly real problem with discussing this part of human community - that I compare homosexuals to burglars. I'm not sure how to get around that because I'm talking to a group of people that think far worse of homosexuals, and so if I just compared homosexuality to say, horticulture, then I could never make my point, because no one hates horticulturists, and neutral non-moral issues can't be used to compare with moral ones.
The one big assumption I make that some people will disagree with is that human sexuality is a moral thing because of how it's practice has huge implications on community. Bad horticulture doesn't destroy community, but when 10,000 teens in a city have sex, and a few hundred of them get pregnant, that deeply affects community. When the father of one family sleeps with the mother of another family, and it leads to divorce, that has tremendous ripples not only in the lives of those families but in their community. To imagine that same sex intercourse is free from moral implication is to believe that man is an island. No man is an island.
When a gay partner in a committed monogamous relationship sleeps with another person outside of that relationship, that has moral implications, and affects the community surrounding them.
Even though that is true, most single adults do not think that their choice to go out to a bar and find someone to have sex with has any affect on the community - but here is where I have no problem offending, by saying, that to believe that is foolish.
The important point to note about this, my newly published "Gay Position" (I hope you appreciate the playfulness of the title), is that I do not say that homosexuality is a sin, or is not a sin. That is why it is new and progressive and will be difficult for huge sections of the Christian church to accept. When they protest, and say, how can you say it is possible that it is not a sin???!!! My answer is to go back and read this post again, and let it explain to you why - because we must go out of our way with this group that we have particularly sinned against to bring healing.
And when pressed behind the scenes to actually say what I think of the act of same sex intercourse, I will say what I am saying in this blog - that I won't say for the above reasons, and if you really want to know what I secretly in my heart of hearts believe, you will have to walk beside me for many years and see how I follow Jesus, and how he teaches me to love others.
If you are gay and don't like being compared to a burglar, all I can say is that trying to get, for example, a bunch of white supremacists to consider that maybe black people aren't that bad, might require one to crawl in some of their muck.
And please do notice that I compare the religionists that have oppressed you to genocide-ists.
And let me also, in a spirit of humility, say that I have committed genocide in my heart on more than one occasion. And it is my great hope that Jesus save me from myself, just as I hope he does for all humans. I am always suspicious of how I wield my religious faith.]
[update #2] Go to new post above - More on My Gay Position.