They invited me to dinner. Dan and Laura were friends of the family and dinner was an excuse to talk. They needed to be heard. Other than my mother, I was the only other person they had told. With a quivering lip he said, “I can’t walk my daughter down the aisle.” The ice in our glasses began to melt and our soups began congealing. This was serious. Their 28-year-old daughter was a lesbian and she wanted to get married and have a baby.
Amongst friends, family and church members Dan and Laura felt alone. They are amongst the finest people in the world. Dan is an elder in the church and he serves and as a public defender in the world. Laura is an OBGYN nurse in the world and a servant in the church. My heart mourned for them. They couldn’t tell anyone. And most of all they feared the churches response. They thought that the church for whatever reason would remove Dan from his eldership and on top of that they felt that their family would reject, judge and shun them and their daughter. I tried to reassure them that this was not the case. But it was a hard sale. Let’s face it there is a lot of junk swirling around our churches regarding homosexuality.
With that said, I think churches have a very good understanding of morality. With hawk-eyed perception we distinguish right from wrong, which is, in its own right a very good thing. But here I want to incorporate compassion with our morality, which in the end might change everything but that’s what compassion does . . . it changes things. If you’ve been around the church at all then you know that non-judgmental compassion is delicate work. Few do it well. To see something wrong with someone and still have compassion for them is an art. Jesus and a few saints throughout history are about the only ones to do this with success. I am suggesting that in general that we have floundered in our response to sin. And in particular, especially in regards to homosexuality, we have struck the fuck out. It was now no more evident to me than in the lives of Dan and Laura. We broke bread that night but we didn’t eat much of it.
I took Dan and Laura’s situation and presented it to an adult Sunday school class at my mostly conservative church in Carthage, Missouri. I was a little nervous on exactly how it would be received. So I planed on using it as a one point illustration in the middle of a bigger lesson. And to my surprise it manifested into a four week discussion. The group would not be shut up. In Church, no one had ever talked about this before. Most of them were affected by homosexuality in one way or another and they needed to air it out. The cat was out of the bag and it was a fighting tom. Their ideas were being flung around the room much like a Jackson Pollock painting. I stepped back and listened.
It was suggested by various members of the group that the Bible ‘clearly’ states that homosexuality is wrong. Being a student of the Bible I wanted to know just how ‘clearly’ homosexuality was spoken of in the Bible. I came away with an almost skinless skeleton. The truth is; you can read for a long way in both directions and not run into it. And when you do, you run into a bunch of contextual issues that makes it difficult and painstaking to apply to today. I suspected that their “clearlies” were driven from our cultural nausea rather than Biblical thoroughness. Because it just wasn’t there. It’s only mentioned five times in all of Scripture. Although despite the lack of discussion of homosexuality in particular I still contend that the book affirms heterosexuality. And I am clearly not arguing any differently. I am pleading that we re-evaluate the way we think and talk about this topic. Let’s get rid of the overstatements because we all know that it is more complicated than that. Let’s face it this world is broken and complicated and we are the privileged ones who get to put up with it. Aren’t we lucky?
The way we talk about people affects us. Why do we have so much religious fervor against homosexuality and so little in regards to social injustice and poverty? Poverty alone is mentioned more than two-thousand times in the Bible. And yet for the most part we are un-jarring in our resistance to homosexuality. It should be just as nauseating to us when we see someone starving and shivering down on Burnside as it is when we see two men holding hands in the mall, or cuddling on a couch.
It is easier, safer and cleaner to stand aside and call a spade a spade, than it is to enter into that spade and transforms it into, let’s say, a heart? But naturally I think we are prone to standing comfortably on the sidelines in jest and call out names and chalk up offenses. That is our nature. Jesus says this much when he tells the crowds to pull the plank out of their own eye before pinpointing the sawdust in their brother’s. But this is hard to change because we are so used to doing this. I am. The Hebrew Prophets had job security because Israel was so fond of doing this. This is our polemic, the human polemic. It is pride that keeps us jesters jesting. But I think if we embrace proper humility and listen to the prophets and see the plank jutting out of our own eye than a whole host problems would be solved. This humility would give the Church and God a better name in the world . . . which is not such a bad thing after all.
I want to leave a residue of grace here. No doubt about it homosexuality is as old as we are. And in the book of Romans chapter one Paul explicitly mentions homosexuality amongst a grotesque list of sin – read the list – we are all guilty. But remember that Paul doesn’t only tell the Romans that they are screwed-up, no, he goes on further and offers an apostolic remedy to the human problem of sin. After accurate spade-calling Paul reminds them of what changes people’s hearts. Paul bolsters that the only thing worthy of repentance is the kindness of God (2:4). And as imitators of God, I think Paul wants Christians everywhere to respond to sin with tenderness, patience and compassion. And we must know by now that this compassion can only be precipitated and empowered by the Holy Spirit. I mean because sometimes we a weary and feeble people who couldn’t muster compassion if we wanted too.
It is a bit ironic but it is the kindness of God that pierces and cuts us and makes us bleed into mystical transformations. I pray for the day that the Church and all her saints bestow this kindness upon a broken and confused world. Especially in the midst of the turmoil brooding in hearts of people like Dan and Laura. They need to know that the Christian response is far different than the world’s response. It is real and it is redemptive.
It appears as a no-brainer to me that the homosexual community will always be convinced of where the church (in general) stands on this issue. And I think it would be absurd for Dan and Laura to think that their daughter would some day wake up and think, “Mom and dad and the Church now accept my lifestyle.” That’s absurd. The point has been made and the point is clear. The church has belabored her stance on this. We have taken our cues from the world. The world tolerates this problem better than we do but toleration is not our goal. And the world often ignores it, tries to legalize it or laugh at it from behind its back. This is not what I am advocating. I am advocating a response that radiates with dignity and respect. I don’t want to ignore it and push it under the rug. I don’t want to secretly make fun of it and be scared of it when encountered. I want to confront it with truthfulness and goodness as God himself has intended sin to be confronted throughout all of human history. I want to confront it as modeled by the words and mantra of the homeless Messiah from Galilee . . . the true God dressed in our skin.
Now I usher you to the virtuous high ground of 1-Cornithians chapter 13 and the accolades of love that are nestled into this formidable syntax. Relationships and weddings are built upon these words of love. All societies have applauded couples when they are faithful, loyal, kind, patient, sacrificing, and brave, playful and serious. That is a fact. So we can’t help but kneel before love and call it good. Seeing these things gives us proof that a “healthy” relationship still exists in a world devastated with break-ups and divorces, confusion and chaos.
From that let me spring board and say that I can’t help but think that a “healthy” homosexual relationship is closer to 1-Corinthians 13 than a promiscuous, manipulative or abusive heterosexual relationship. Are we not starring love in the face? When Dan and Laura’s daughter starts planning her wedding, I suspect that she is going to pay as much attention to the minute details of flowers and candles and vows as much as any girl that I know. I can’t help but see joy and excitement and hope in her eyes as she picks out her wedding dress. I hope she has something to celebrate. She has found love. And love is the most formidable concept that mankind has ever come in contact with. Can a union that displays these divine virtues be wrong? Why did some of us stop applauding?
In that same vein I hate it when people compare homosexuality to other sexual sins such as; adultery, rape, bestiality, masturbation etc… I argue that homosexuality is far different from all of these. It is unique. It stands out. I mean adultery tears and tugs at an existing relationship. Rape dominates over someone else. And masturbation is far too self indulgent to be called love. Bestiality is well, bestiality. But homosexuality is far different. There is no tearing away, no domination, no self worship. We are talking about love and commitment that is there through richer or poorer. I think making this distinction is crucial to how we start talking about this. It will prevent us from demonizing this and will give us a new look at two people who are embarking on this scary and wonderful journey called love.
To go with what I am saying let me quote C.S. Lewis when he says that Plato was right after all when he said that “Eros (love), turned upside down, blackened, distorted, and filthy, still bore the traces of his divinity” (Surprised by Joy). I am convinced that this divine spark of love will go on blazing in the corners of our world even if we fail to understand it. It will flicker with as much intensity as it did when the world was spoken into existence. Aren’t the fairytales right in suggesting that love is stronger and brighter than all the sin and evil in the world? And Peter reminds us that love covers a multitude of sins. So, can we dialogue and interact on issues?
We are better than to be hesitant with people who have the same concerns and fears as us. In the end I don’t see myself calling homosexuality acceptable, but because of these thoughts and many others I will resist the temptation to judge and shun Dan and Laura’s daughter. I will openly have conversations with people on both sides of the issue and I will urge couples like this to seek reconciliation with their daughters, sons, family members and Churches. Always remembering that God’s kindness is the only thing that can changes people's hearts and brings them together. I don’t want to be naïve about the situation, I told them that their daughter was probably going to be a lesbian for the rest of her life (they didn’t want to hear that) but I also told them that they better love her and be there for her regardless.
I pray that we will be like Christ when he encounters the misfits of this world, realizing first that we are misfits ourselves. When a prostitute washes Jesus’ feet in Luke chapter seven he chastises the host of the party; the teacher of the law. He tenderly deals with the promiscuous Samaritan woman at the well in John four. He tells the story in Luke fifteen of the father, who with a quivering lip tackles his son on a Palestinian hill. Our response has to be in step with this kind of kindness. I encouraged them to attend and even attempt to help plan the wedding. I want to see her face when she turns around wearing her dress or tux and sees her slightly reluctant but loving father with an arm extended down the aisle. The Kingdom of God is swiftly advancing and it is because of acts like these that it will continue.