When we look to the actual community of same-sex attracted and gay Christians, we see men and women committed to Christ, committed to engaging the Scriptures as God’s revelation to them, and committed to journeying as faithful disciples. And among them, we see the reality that this is a disputable matter.
There are those who believe that faithful discipleship means not acceding to or embracing the reality of a same-sex orientation and seeking to experience a redeemed ability to love and serve an opposite gender spouse. Some have gone on to be married and raise a family. Others have remained single. In these lives we see the courage of conviction and the discipline of stewarding desires. We see commitment to fidelity and to be chaste. We see good fruit.
There are other gay Christians who also exhibit good fruit – who have navigated their journey in a different way. We see among them those who sense no contradiction in Scripture to live honestly and authentically as someone who is persistently and predominantly attracted to their own gender yet live out their Scriptural convictions about behavior through an intentional commitment to celibate singleness. These brothers and sisters view their sense of their own sexual orientation differently. They may be comfortable identifying as gay as an authentic expression of what they believe will be their permanent experience this side of heaven. They consider that Scripture does not address the question of sexual orientation. Does this difference from the first group discount the good fruit of discipleship, maturity, service and love that is in their lives?
What about our gay brothers and sisters who fully believe that God’s love and grace is extended to them as they offer their lives to a same-sex partner as an act of self-giving love? What about the fruit of faith that enables them to believe that God’s love embraces and enfolds them as they journey with a partner? Shall we sit in the seat of God and declare that theirs is not legitimate faith? What about the ways these brothers and sisters share their faith in Christ with their friends and neighbours? Shall we count such witness as bad fruit? What about the commitment of these believers to work for justice for the poor, abused and oppressed in our society and world? Shall we consider such efforts to be not of Christ? What about the times of prayer, the faithful worship, the engagement with Scripture, the sharing of fellowship with other believers? Shall we consider this all counterfeit so that it fits our grid of understanding? What about those who commit to and practice fidelity and chasteness sexuality? Shall we assume this is deceptive?
Consider this discourse between Jesus and John in Mark chapter 9:
“Teacher,” said John, “we saw someone driving out demons in your name and we told him to stop, because he was not one of us.” “Do not stop him,” Jesus said. “For no one who does a miracle in my name can in the next moment say anything bad about me, for whoever is not against us is for us. Truly I tell you, anyone who gives you a cup of water in my name because you belong to the Messiah will certainly not lose their reward. “If anyone causes one of these little ones—those who believe in me—to stumble, it would be better for them if a large millstone were hung around their neck and they were thrown into the sea.
Those of us who do find ourselves in the heterosexual mainstream need to perhaps pause and consider that among same-sex attracted Christians, where there is such diversity in determining a course of discipleship, faithfulness and obedience, there is a movement to live out Paul’s guidelines on how to live together in a way that honours Christ and one another despite differences in conviction and conscience. There are friendships in which space is given to live according to one’s conscience, where judgment is withheld, where instead of a spirit of contempt there is a spirit of humility, listening and caring for one another.
Having had the opportunity to be present and worship in such a gathering of same-sex attracted believers, I can attest to the beauty of such unity in diversity. There is a beauty of preferring the other. There is an awareness of the need to resist the natural pharisaical spirit that so easily arises within us. There is freedom to encourage one another to stay true to our convictions – even when they differ from ours – because we most want our friends to live congruent lives in commitment to Christ. Words are spoken with care. Feelings are considered. Sensitivity is a regular discipline. In such space there is an astounding atmosphere of love and acceptance. Not because “anything goes” but rather because people understand that every individual has been on a journey to wrestle with God. And there is a unified commitment to truly not be a stumbling block to one another. There is perhaps a keen awareness of the quote, “Let us be kind, one to another, for most of us are fighting a hard battle.” Until one has experienced rejection, alienation, inequity, or injustice such a quote may seem merely sentimental. But when, collectively, a group of people gather who share similar difficult experiences, there is a capacity for grace in the midst of difference because there is a keen awareness that the battle is real and difficult.
Now of course, such unity in diversity isn’t a perfect or ideal experience all the time. In such a space of living the reality of a disputable matter, there are inevitably those who do not think they could be wrong, who do try to prosyletize others to their position. There are those who are wounded or immature who do not yet have the capacity to follow Paul’s guidelines. There is still conflict, there are still moments when shalom is interrupted or broken. But even with all of this, there is a larger picture of what unity and peace and unconditional love can look like when we live out Romans 14 in the midst of our very significant disagreements.
The great irony I see is that same-sex attracted Christians are living out this challenging experiment while many straight Christians are unwilling to even consider it. A brief look at any Christian blog that brings up the subject of homosexuality, and you will quickly see the many straight Christians who are certain and clear not only in their own convictions but in their judgment and contempt towards those who differ from them. All of this is based on an absence of personal application to this particular question.
One has to wonder if the process of actually wrestling with a particular disputed question personally is the foundation from which you can internalize Paul’s teaching in Romans 14. For when you get on your knees at the side of your bed night after night pleading with God to take away your same-sex attractions, you experience a solidarity with others who have had the same experience that those who have not can never truly enter. When you do the hard work of processing fear and shame related to your sense of being different in your sexuality or sense of gender – there is again a sense of solidarity. When you face the potential rejection of family, friends and church by coming to the point when you need to honestly speak about the reality of experiencing same-sex attraction ….. when you search through Scripture to try to understand how God really, truly feels about you ….. when you wrestle to try to make sense of the longing you feel for love and family and the story of Scripture that doesn’t hold a one-to-one model for you ….. you feel an empathy and closeness for whoever else has had to walk that road. And so even if and when you come to different conclusions in the midst of genuine desire to follow God and live a faithful life, there is a sense of connection, there is a sense of understanding, there is a sense of not wanting to make the other’s journey any more difficult than it has already been. And out of this very real and personal place arises the kind of mutuality and preference for the other that Paul speaks of. And the truth is straight people will never be able to really enter that space – because we have really never wrestled in those deep personal places.
It is true that there can be a depth of divide between same-sex attracted Christians. This is particularly true between people who feel deeply convicted that any expression of same-sex love arising out of what they would consider to be a dis-ordered desire is an affront to the nature of God and those who view homosexuality as a natural variant and a unique opportunity to express love and family in a different way.
For those who view same-sex attraction as a misrepresentation of God’s created order, they may prioritize their understanding of the ontological nature of God. In the reality and calling to be image-bearers of God, such believers feel that any expression of their same-sex desire would be a rebellion against such a calling. In their understanding, the complementarity of male and female are an intrinsic aspect of the image of God that humans are to represent. Therefore, any same-sex sexual intimacy contradicts this. They believe that it is more important for them to rightly image God than to experience personal fulfillment in the expression of their desires.
For those who do not view same-sex attraction as fundamentally dis-ordered, the question that arises can be the perceived arbitrariness of this prohibition in light of our understanding today of same-sex orientation and the model of Christian love and fidelity that gay couples share. God, they may describe, is a loving Father who when asked for a loaf of bread does not give a stone. He plays no favourites and he does not make arbitrary rules that deprive his children of love, relationship and family. In particular, there may be deep reflection on the essential relational aspect of God’s character and the ways in which we are created for relationship.
Clearly, these are significant differences in perspective among same-sex attracted believers, but even here, where there is humility and an absence of fear, a sense of understanding and care for one another can emerge. And this is demonstrated in many humble and mature friendships that I have had the privilege of observing and being present with.
In part 7, we will look seek to bring some conclusions together on this multi-part series on the application of disputable matter principles to the question of covenanted same-sex relationships.