After 5 posts responding to four theological propositions presented in an evangelical sermon on homosexuality, I now turn to the three exhortations given in the same sermon to sexual minority folks. If you need to catch up, check here.
The preacher’s first exhortation was to “accept our apology for treating this as a super sin.” And certainly a false hierarchy of sin has caused tremendous pain and alienation over the years. But I can’t help but wonder if this simply sounds like “love the sinner, hate the sin” with a little bit of lace trim for LGBTQ+ folks. I wonder if the preacher, a white, heterosexual, married, well-educated, man is aware of the position of privilege he holds as he offers this exhortation. I wonder if intentionally divesting one’s power and redistributing power might bear different fruit? Do you think this apology might set a different tone: “Please accept our apology for not listening more carefully and with open hearts to the particularities of your experience and journey. Will you give us a second chance and share your story?”
I wonder too what the preacher’s apology practically looks like. He refers to individuals as same-sex attracted – which can be perceived to be minimizing the actual reality of navigating life in an intrinsically different manner than those who do so from an opposite sex sexual orientation filter. If this isn’t a super sin, but has been treated as such in the past, then what will the difference be to live out this apology? Will people be able to share more honestly about their experiences? When the sin-paintbrush is out, so-to-speak, it is hard to simply describe what you’re dealing with without a compulsion to feel bad about it and try to eradicate it. If sexuality as an aspect of identity is not accepted, there is very little room for a sexual minority person to safely and freely be themselves without feeling like they need to change something about themselves to be accepted.
I don’t know this preacher, and I don’t know his community. Perhaps the language of sin is typical and common for many of life’s experiences in the normal conversations among parishioners. But I can’t help but wonder if people raise the sin issue when they’re talking about their struggle to persevere in going to the gym or eating in a healthier way? Do they think about sin when they spend extra time ensuring their appearance will make the right impression before going out to a Christmas party? What about talking about sin when they complain to each other about the pressures of getting all their Christmas shopping done?
Does the community practice self-reflection and mutual confession when it comes to sin? That’s a high level of vulnerability to practice in our cultural context (and yet what we regularly seem to ask of sexual minority folks)? If homosexuality isn’t to be treated as a super sin in this preacher’s community – what does that actually look like? Will everyone conduct themselves with the same level of transparency and willingness to invite people into intimate aspects of their lives to be held accountable on matters of sin?
I also wonder if there is room within this apology to listen deeply to those who have discerned differently than this preacher? What about those who have discerned that covenanted same-sex marriage relationships are not sinful? How about those who would join Neal Plantinga in understanding sin to be culpable shalom breaking and do not see their marriages as breaking shalom? Or those who, through a Trinitarian lens, view sin in the context of relationship and causing pain or harm to another – and therefore in their spirits do not experience their relationship with its commitment to covenant and fidelity as sinful. Is there room for dialogue? Is there the possibility of finding unity together despite such diversity – because our witness to the world depends on it?
I hope that you hear in my responses that my wonderings are not focused on what the preacher is saying, but whether he has articulated why he is saying it, and been thoughtful about how he conveys what he believes. There is diversity within the Body of Christ on what we believe – that’s a given. Proclamation that presumes uniformity may well be deemed irrelevant by those who have wrestled, faced tensions, felt the weight of uncertainty, or find themselves in a different place than the preacher. And that is why we need to be careful to explain why we believe the way we do and communicate it in a manner that invites others into the conversation. Of course, this is based on the conviction that learning and seeking of truth are meant to be relational and dialogical in the Christian life – not controlled by authoritative teachers. In light of that, as a general observation, I would suggest beginning with asking questions ~ not delivering exhortations.