Welcome to a series in which I give my responses, from the perspective of generous spaciousness, to a sermon given in an evangelical mega-church. Another pastor in the area asked me to respond to this particular sermon – and because it seemed like so many typical evangelical sermons that I hear seeking to address homosexuality, I thought it might be helpful to make these thoughts more widely available through the blog. I would encourage you to read part 1 and part 2 before diving into this piece.
The preacher stated that he wanted to make four theological propositions, offer three exhortations to same-sex attracted people (his language), and two exhortations for family members and friends. In this post we look at the second theological proposition. It is one that we hear so often. The bible is clear. Period the end. No conversation. No questions. No historical or cultural context to consider in any weighty manner. No matter that the concept of homosexuality was completely foreign to any of the authors of Scripture at the time of writing. Never mind that the idea of sexual orientation would not have been comprehended in the cultures and by the people that the Scriptures were originally intended for. And yes, of course these things were not surprises or unknown to God. But God spoke through particular people in particular times and in particular places.
What about the many scholars and pastors and Christians who would understand God moving through a progressive revelation? Understanding that God reveals himself more and more through the witness of Scripture – and is most fully revealed in Jesus Christ – helps us interpret earlier passages and reminds us to interpret texts to the early church in a manner that is consistently Christ-like. In other words, if our interpretation isn’t Christ-like we ought to go back to the drawing board so-to-speak, get down on our knees and ask the Spirit to make the person of Christ clear to us in the passage. I would also be among those who believe that the Holy Spirit is alive and well and actively continuing to reveal Jesus to us in our current context.
I often say that Christians are not just responsible to articulate what they believe – but why they believe it. What I did not hear in this particular sermon, and what I often miss from those who claim “the bible is clear” is why they believe that. If we are indeed talking about the potential for an entire population to form intimate relationships and families or the prohibition to do the same, surely that is worth a deeper explanation of why God would continue to hold these expectations given our current understanding that orientation is not simplistically tied to excess and lust. Now I know gay Christians who are committed to celibacy – and I deeply respect them for their care in discerning and their consistency in living out their convictions. But when I invite them to share with me WHY they believe the way they do, they have a lot more to say than simply, “the bible is clear.”
And again, there are Christians, in increasing number, who do not think the bible is so clear. What is one to do with these people – who profess faith in Jesus Christ and commitment to the Scriptures – even if they do so in a way that is different than this particular preacher? As I so often say, there are different parts in the Body of Christ, and they have different functions, but one part of the Body cannot say to another part, “I have no need of you.” I did not hear any acknowledgment in the sermon that there is diversity in the Body of Christ on these matters. And if the church is as large as it seems to be based on the number of pastors, there is bound to be people who are asking different kinds of questions and wrestling with God about these matters. In the manner the sermon was delivered, such folks get the clear message that their questions aren’t welcome, that there is no desire for open conversation. The sermon pretty much cements the deal on perpetuating D.A.D.T (don’t ask, don’t tell).
If the first confession of the early church was simply, “Jesus is Lord” – then why are we adding so many qualifications to who can be considered a follower of Jesus? If the first confession simply meant, “I will follow the way and teaching of Jesus rather than Caesar” – then why do we demand that we view Scripture in the same way and interpret it in the same way? If anything, the Rabbinic tradition, of which Jesus himself was a part, demonstrates robust wrestling with the text. Jesus said so often, “You have heard it said ….. but I say unto you.” And if all the law and the prophets hang on the dual command to love God fully and to love our neighbors, why is uniform understanding of moral strictures presented as essential? Where does “In essentials – unity; in non-essentials – liberty; in all things – love” fit?
When a preacher states, “the bible is clear” it puts the freeze on acknowledging our diversity, engaging current theological and interpretive perspectives, and makes for a pretty unsafe environment for questions and dialogue. And what does that mean for the sexual minority young people sitting in those pews? What does that mean for the closeted adult? What does that mean for the person in a mixed orientation marriage who really needs a place for honest conversation about the unique realities they are navigating? What does that mean for the mother and father whose gay child is attending an affirming church and wanting to engage them in respectful conversation? What does that mean for the grandparents whose lesbian granddaughter has announced her engagement and has asked grandpa to walk her down the aisle?
Generous spaciousness recognizes the reality of these dilemmas and encourages congregations and families to have the quiet courage and mutual respect to open these complex matters in the space of dialogue in the humble confidence that God will reveal a way for them to be faithful and to love each other well.