In generous space communities, this dance is an exquisite one. Years ago, I remember hearing Justin Lee talk about the time that his friend, Ron Belgau, confided that there was another gay Christian in his workplace who was interested in him – and that Ron was wondering whether or not to reconsider his commitment to celibacy. Justin shared that despite his own personal convictions about the appropriateness of covenanted same-sex relationships, he did not encourage Ron to pursue this relationship. Justin explained that he did not sense that Ron’s convictions had actually changed but rather that Ron felt understandably drawn to consider this relationship out of loneliness and the natural longing for intimacy. Justin believed, that to be a good friend to Ron, to be a brother in Christ to Ron, meant that he had to encourage his friend, even in challenging and difficult circumstances, to continue to live in alignment with his convictions. Reconsidering his convictions would be another conversation – but not one that was best initiated by experiencing a draw to relationship but rather through prayerful consideration of the scriptures and God’s call on his life. This had such an impact on me. To me, this was an incredible example of being in Christian community where diversity was not seen as a problem to be fixed, but as an opportunity for growth.
This dance is one that honors each other’s conscience – even when our convictions on secondary matters differ.
Scripture reminds us to not bind the conscience of our fellow siblings in Christ.
Binding the conscience occurs when one is viewed and treated as rebellious and defiant in sin rather than a sibling in Christ who has in good faith come to a different interpretive conclusion. One can be treated in a manner that binds the conscience, restricts one’s freedom in Christ, and exerts pressure to conform in a variety of overt or less obvious ways. Given the history of LGBTQ+ people in the church attempting or committing suicide and/or walking away from church and sometimes their faith, such restriction and prevention of space to live in accordance with conscience has borne tragic fruit.
If our conscience tells us something is sin – and we do it anyway, we have sinned. But if our conscience is clear, then we should act in accordance with our conscience. Paul says, “I am convinced, being fully persuaded in the Lord Jesus, that nothing is unclean in itself. But if anyone regards something as unclean, then for that person it is unclean.” (Rom. 14: 14)
(Note: There may be times that binding of conscience is a necessary part of discipleship in light of self-delusion such that we might see in cases like adultery or fraud. It is notable, however, that we don’t see Christians mobilizing to articulate their good faith efforts to interpret the scriptures rightly to affirm adultery or fraud.)
Generous space encourages people to live in alignment with their own convictions and resists binding the conscience regarding our deep convictions about marriage – whether one sees the covenant as bound by the gender of the partners or not. Living rightly in this tension of honoring each person’s conscience in the context of opening our lives to one another in community demands intimately walking step-by-step with the Spirit, secure confidence in being the Beloved, and deep love for our siblings in Christ. Living it out is a beautiful challenge, that we believe honors the unity for which Jesus prayed.