What is your lens?

One of the reasons I wrote the previous post was to consider the ways we make assumptions of the text. The manner in which we interact with Scripture is an important factor in the conversations around faith and sexuality. Different traditions and different people approach Scripture differently – and this difference is not necessarily a matter of one way being ‘right’ and another way being ‘wrong’. God is bigger than our feeble attempts at hermeneutics. I trust that He can reveal himself to us – even if we are applying lousy hermeneutics. At the same time, I want to be willing to be challenged in the ways I bring my experience, expectations and, yes, anxieties to the text. So, as I’ve tried to live in the larger story of Scripture (I’ve been reading through the Bible annually for several years), I’ve tried to look through different lenses at stories that are sometimes very familiar. To be willing to ask different questions. To be willing to consider what assumptions I bring to the passage. This is inherently threatening. But, I have also found that it can be life-giving and catalytic to a deeper trust in the Holy Spirit revealing Jesus to me in new ways through the text. I noticed a facebook friend yesterday who was speaking of reading Scripture through the eyes of refugees and those who are displaced. Their comment was that this is likely a more faithful posture, since much of Scripture was written by and for people who were on the move – the Exodus, the times of exile, living under another empire. They went on to say that we, in the west, tend to read Scripture from our own place of stability and rootedness – and suggested this may be, at times, an unhelpful lens. He was finding that reading as a refugee brought a new freshness and life to the text – that he was seeing things he had not seen before. For nearly ten years now, I have attempted to read Scripture through the lens of someone who is a sexual minority – someone who finds themselves outside the heterosexual mainstream. This isn’t the only way I’ve been reading Scripture – as that would then become a biased lens. But it has been a regular practise and discipline for me as I have sought to posture myself in a place of incarnational connecting with those for whom this is a personal reality. It has been revealing and threatening and exciting and eye-opening and challenging. And I truly believe that as I have attempted to do this in a posture to serve and love others, Jesus has been showing himself to me. Note, I said Jesus has been showing himself to me. I am not making a comment here about sexual ethics or doctrine or theology of sex …. I am simply saying that I have been blessed and enriched by the ways that I have seen Jesus’ heart towards those marginalized from a heteronormative status. I’m not sure that many can say they have attempted this exercise with any regularity or consistency. I find that even some Christians who are same-sex attracted haven’t attempted this exercise – perhaps because of an intrinsic sense that they ought not to. That somehow, to read Scripture as a sexual minority is inappropriate or wrong. Perhaps, it feels like that would be “giving in” to their different sense of sexual identity – and that true Christian discipleship fights against same-sex attraction and seeks to move towards their sense of God’s created intention of complementarian sexual identity. Since I view (as commenter Dave mentions as well) the experience of same-sex attraction as morally neutral I don’t have any reservation about seeking to read Scripture through the lens of a sexual minority experience. From my perspective, to read Scripture from the perspective of someone on the margins is one faithful way to engage God’s story – particularly given the thread throughout Scripture that breaks down barriers and exclusion of those different from the majority, dominant status. I realize that not everyone will share this perspective. However, in my vocational calling, this practice has been deeply enriching and revealing. This experience is perhaps the backdrop for the manner in which I might engage particular texts that are often highlighted in the conversations around faith and sexuality. From a previous post, a commenter referenced Jesus’ words in Matthew 19 where he speaks about marriage. Verses 3-6 read:

Some Pharisees came to him to test him. They asked, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any and every reason?” “Haven’t you read,” he replied, “that at the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female,’ and said, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh’? So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.”

I have heard on many occasions these texts used to demonstrate that Jesus was standing for truth on the question of gay marriage. When I look at this text, I need to ask myself what context I am projecting on the text and what context the text actually reveals. Jesus is not asked the question about the potential appropriateness of a committed, covenantal same-sex relationship. He is asked a question about whether a man can divorce his wife for any reason. And he is asked this question with the clear motivation on the part of the Pharisees to test Jesus. If I use this text with loud certainty to demonstrate that Jesus is against gay marriage – I have projected a different context onto the text. While Jesus is certainly pointing to the majority normative status of heterosexual relationships – his comments here, in and of themselves, do not demonstrate whether or not he would see extension of grace to two same-sex oriented individuals as an exception to this majority experience. This text doesn’t really tell us how Jesus would respond to the dilemma of a sexual minority for whom heterosexual marriage is not a likely, healthy or just option. What Jesus is speaking to is the partnership of men and women in marriage – and that once that covenant is formed, the husband’s loyalty and love is to be for his wife. This is in the context that in Jesus’ day, women were viewed as the property of men – first their father and then their husband. Jesus’ words are words of equality and protection for the wife – in her own way, a minority status situation. Please don’t misunderstand me. I’m not saying that this text ought to be used to support gay marriage. I’m simply saying that I’m not sure it ought to be used to condemn it. And of course, I recognize that there are other texts that need to be considered in terms of the question of same-sex partnerships. I find it ironic, however, that this text is so often used to speak against two same-sex oriented people seeking to live a life of fidelity together when the Christian church has so often failed to live out Jesus’ direct admonition for fidelity in heterosexual marriage. I think the point of Jesus’ words here is the call to fidelity. While we extend grace, as I believe we often should, to those who, in the brokenness of life, are unable to maintain fidelity in their marriages – we refuse to extend grace to those who do desire to live in fidelity as same-sex partners. In the past year, some of the most vehement responses to my invitation to consider the reality of diverse perspectives on the question of faithful outcomes for same-sex attracted people have come from people who have been divorced and remarried. Note: the invitation is not about changing their convictions – but simply to hear the experience of those with differing convictions. The seeming inability to listen with any serenity, openness or genuine respect has at times confounded me. I wonder how Jesus views this incongruity. And I wonder how Jesus would have responded to the question if it had been posed by a sexual minority longing to experience fidelity in a life-long covenant. My questions have less to do with ascertaining the “right” or “wrong” doctrine based on what he would say – and more to do with Jesus’ tone, his posture, his heart. Because I want to have his tone, his posture and his heart. Jesus concludes his conversation about divorce with the Pharisees with this rather mysterious conclusion:

The disciples said to him, “If this is the situation between a husband and wife, it is better not to marry.” Jesus replied, “Not everyone can accept this word, but only those to whom it has been given. For there are eunuchs who were born that way, and there are eunuchs who have been made eunuchs by others—and there are those who choose to live like eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. The one who can accept this should accept it.”

It would seem to me that there is a glimpse of generous spaciousness in Jesus’ response. Different people have different experiences, capacities, and outcomes. I am intrigued by this. And I want to sit at his feet, like Mary, and listen and seek to understand more deeply who this Jesus that I love is.

-WG

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