I mentioned a few posts ago that 2 of my passions were God and equal rights/treatments for gays and lesbians. The fabulous Jen asked me if I would write a bit about how those 2 things coexist. Jen is a fierce champion of social justice issues, particularly those of the homeless, and she moves me greatly with her posts. So when Jen asks for an explanation... Jen gets it. ;)
Let me begin by simply stating that I truly believe that GOD IS LOVE (1 John 4:16). I'll come back to that.
My connection with this issue fully began when I was a freshman in college. A dear friend of mine in my dorm had grown up in a very traditional but loving Baptist home. He was also gay. He struggled mightily with this, and knowing that I was a Christian, too, he would talk with me about it. We spent hours talking about it and reading the passages in the Bible that people always pull out in their arguments against homosexuality. The following fall the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America (the denomination I belong to) put out the first draft of its Human Sexuality study. This study was, in my opinion, a fantastic exploration of these bible passages, and came to really great conclusions about how to interpret them and how to create an ethic within the church for supporting homosexual individuals and relationships. Unfortunately 2 years later they released a second draft that reflected the outcry of many of their members, and they backed off from some of their previous assertions. I wrote a very detailed letter expressing my disappointment (they also took out a section on how masturbation is OK, saying it was so obvious it didn't even need to be in there. The fact that it made front page news when the study was first released seems to me to indicate that it DID need to be in there!) I am saddened to say that 15 years later they are still "studying" the issue. All of the studies have, as far as I can tell, come to the same conclusions as the first one, but it seems they are afraid of angering the people and dividing the church, and therefore are afraid to take the stand I wish they would make for this very important issue. But I digress a wee bit.
Back to those pesky bible passages. There are some pretty good resources out there that deal with them in detail (see resources section below) so I won't dissect them all... I will say that I believe the Bible to be silent on the issue of a committed homosexual relationship. None of the passages in the bible speaks to a partnership, a committed and loving relationship. They refer to temple prostitution, the disregard of hospitality laws, the abuse of young boys by older men. Both the Hebrew and the Greek languages have many, many more words that describe things that we boil down to one word (love, for instance) and the words used in these various passages often give a much clearer description of what is being discussed than our translations suggest.
What is clear to me in the Bible is that GOD IS LOVE. So... if the Bible is silent on the issue of a committed homosexual relationship, that is the first thing I look to when I think of how to respond. With love.
Because I think the Bible is silent on the issue, I think it is folly for us to say that homosexuality is a sin. I don't think it is. Let me repeat that. I DON'T THINK THAT HOMOSEXUALITY IS A SIN. However, even if you do take the position that homosexuality is a sin, I think you HAVE to remember that GOD IS LOVE and respond with love. There is no excuse for saying things like "God hates fags." I believe that God loves everyone... murders and child molesters and gamblers and alcoholics and shoplifters and little white liars and me and you. That doesn't mean that he likes everything we do. But he still loves the person. Take a look at David. The man was a lying, murdering and adultering fool. And yet still today we look to him as a pillar of faith. If God can love him, God can love anyone.
Some people in the church look at homosexual relationships a bit like they look at divorce. They believe it is not what God intended, but see them both as a symptom of our fallen world, and feel that if, because of our fallen world, the only way 2 people can experience that committed love relationship is with a person of the same sex, that we should support that relationship. They welcome gays and lesbians into their congregations and support their decisions. They don't try to "cure" them, but rather accept them as they are. I think this is a very loving Christian response.
I want to make sure I haven't muddied the waters too much here. Again, I don't think that homosexuality is a sin. I also acknowledge that I could be wrong. I may get to heaven and God may say "Painted Maypole, you were wrong." But if that happens I believe He will say "but you acted in LOVE for your fellow brothers and sisters, and that's what matters."
So for me, the biggest issue is that Christians need to respond to gays and lesbians with LOVE. I think that as a whole we have not, and this saddens me greatly.
I work in the theatre, and so you would expect that I know a lot of gay and lesbian people. I do. I also have other friends and family who are gay, including 2 of The May Queen's godfathers. We attended their wedding, and they have been wonderful friends to us and faithful godfathers to MQ.
Since that time I first sat in a room with my college friend and discussed faith and love and relationships and so much more... I have worked for social justice in this area. When I was in Los Angeles I performed and conducted theatre for social justice workshops with Fringe Benefits, a theatre company with a mission that began as building bridges between GLBTQ youth and their straight peers, but has lovingly expanded to "promote the idea that every man, woman and child deserves to be treated with dignity and respect." I also worked with my congregation in Los Angeles to adopt a statement that clearly outlines a welcome to gays and lesbians.
Where I am right now, both physically and life situations wise, I am not currently actively involved with a group that works on this issue. But it is the main issue that causes me to write letters to my government. I speak up about the issue with friends and acquaintances. I pray about it. It weighs heavily on my heart. I have seen friends and family hurt (both physically and emotionally) by the prejudices that surround this issue. I have seen a dear friend and excellent pastor leave the ministry because he could not openly be in a relationship, and it was tearing him apart.
I believe that God is Love. Denying marriage and other rights to gays and lesbians is not displaying that love. Making demeaning remarks is not displaying that love. Trying to "cure" a homosexual is not displaying that love.
Last week I was reading an article about "The Little Rock Nine" (9 black students attending an otherwise white high school in 1957). A picture showed a protester carrying a sign that read "Save our Christian America."
It struck me as the same type of argument that people are using now to keep gays and lesbians from legally marrying. They claim it is against our Christian values. That it cheapens the idea of marriage. I disagree. I think we cheapen the idea of marriage by being exclusionary. I think we cheapen the idea of marriage by not allowing people who want to dedicate their lives to each other in a public fashion that chance. I think we go against our Christian values when we do not act in loving acceptance of our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters.
Resources for more information:
Lutherans Concerned - working for full inclusion of GLBT individuals within the Lutheran Church
Cootie Shots: Theatrical Inoculations Against Bigotry - not only do I appear on the cover of this book, but inside you will find some wonderful plays, songs and poems for children that teach tolerance and fight bigotry. And the illustrations? Oh.. it's beautiful! Think of it as Free to Be... You and Me for a new generation.
Sexual Fulfillment for Single and Married, Straight and Gay, Young and Old - this book is written by Herbert W. Chilstrom and Lowell O. Erdahl, two retired Lutheran bishops
The Nature of Sexual Orientation - link to actual article by John R. Ballew, M.S.
Affirmation - this United Methodist movement provided me with lots of ideas and resources when I was working within my own Lutheran congregation