I consider three different cords in living out the gospel with our gay neighbours.
First there is mission: reaching our gay neighbours who do not experience relationship with Jesus Christ with the good news of His love.
Second is justice: speaking out on issues of unjust treatment and the ways we fail to honour the image of God in our gay neighbours AND living out justice by treating our gay neighbours with the respect and love that is consistent with the shalom of God.
Third is ministry: doing life with our brothers and sisters in Christ who are gay, sharing mutual encouragement and accountability to grow as faithful disciples of Jesus Christ, and offering care and support in seasons of growth and healing.
When these three cords of mission, justice and ministry are intertwined, I believe our Christian response has the best chance of representing Christ in our world. If one cord or another is given undue emphasis the strength of the cord becomes compromised.
In simplistic terms, one could say that the typical evangelical response has been focused on ministry. And I would suggest that within that ministry response there has often been an undue focus on the pursuit of orientation change. One could also say that the typical liberal response has been focused on justice. Unfortunately, I have not seen a particularly robust investment in mission as I survey the Christian community’s general response to our gay neighbours.
As I look forward and prayerfully seek to chart a distinct course, I want that course to be marked by the kind of cord Ecclesiastes 4:12 describes, “A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.” Mission, justice and ministry.
Holding these three aspects of a Christian response in tension comes down to a bottom-line question for me: Will this encourage my gay neighbours to fully experience the love of Christ?
This means I have to risk being misunderstood – across the board. My bottom-line question is not, “How can I rally people who agree with me?” Nor is it, “What can I say that will be most strategic for fundraising?” Or, “How can I ensure that people will like me and my ministry?” It isn’t even, “How can I demonstrate the right, orthodox position?”
If I write or speak and neglect to ask myself, “Will this encourage my gay neighbours to fully experience the love of Christ?” then I will fail to embody the response that I believe Christ is asking of me.
I am constantly challenged, as one who holds a more conservative view of sexual ethics, by Jesus’ words in Matthew 23 ….. “They tie up heavy loads and put them on men’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to lift a finger to move them.” I don’t want to put on heavy loads without stepping into that place of identification, sharing the load and walking together. Or his words, “But you have neglected the more important matters of the law—justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former. You blind guides! You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel.” I don’t want to neglect matters of justice, mercy and faithfulness. I don’t want to major in the minors and strain out a gnat. Oh Christ have mercy on us!
There has been some discussion of late of my support of covenantal friendships. I do not view a covenantal friendship as a sexless marriage. However, in our microwave, throw-away culture, I do appreciate the Biblical value of covenant expressed in friendship. Just because two people covenant to do life together, sharing a deep abiding friendship and commitment to be there for each other – does not make them like spouses. (ie. Abraham and Lot made a covenant.) Whether these two people are same-gender attracted or not, I see this as a viable option for those who are single – for whatever reason. And if such a commitment is made – between two friends or a group of friends – it seems to me to be something the Christian community can celebrate together – for it is an expression of gospel, counter-cultural living, when we say that we are going to serve another through life’s ups and downs. It is an option that might be more rare than common – but I believe it is an option that can be God-glorifying in the right circumstances.
I am very challenged by God’s word in the creation account that it was not good for a human being to be alone – something that was spoken before sin had even entered the picture. And I am also mindful of Jesus’ words that in the new heaven and new earth there will be no marriage – but there will be relationship, there will be intimacy, there will be faithfulness. How do I know that? Because our Triune God lives in intimate, faithful relationship in a reality that far exceeds our limited understandings.
Whether living alone, living with a long-time friend, living in intentional community, living with a spouse and/or other family members, each human being needs relationship, needs to know they belong, are loved, and accepted. These good gifts are essential aspects of God’s shalom.
Though a likely small percentage, there are gay men and women in our neighbourhoods. If your paradigm is, “There are no homosexual people – only heterosexual people with a homosexual problem”, then I suppose what I have written may make little sense. But if you accept the reality that there are some people, perhaps 3-5% of the population, who by no choice of their own experience a persistent orientation of attraction for their own gender, then I pray that if you are a Christ-follower you will search for liberating, God-honouring ways for our gay brothers and sisters to experience intimacy in relationship. And I pray that you will ask, “How will we reach out with mission, justice and ministry? How will we, together, experience God’s love, relationship, intimacy and faithfulness?”
I, for one, want to be open to as many options as possible – options that I pray will encourage my gay neighbours to fully experience the love of Christ.