– The following posts are riddled with proof-texts (i.e. extracting individual
verses to promote or support a personal viewpoint). In order to focus on the major themes of the
Biblical scriptures I typically try to avoid proof-texting, but for the
purposes of this post referencing individual verses helps provide clarity.
I sit down with someone to talk about LGBTQ+ inclusion now (and I’ve had
countless conversations on this topic), the conversation normally goes
something like this:
“Mark, how can you think that it’s okay
to be gay? It’s pretty clear in Scripture that it’s a sin.”
ME: “Really? Where exactly does it clearly say that in Scripture? Actually, faithful committed same-sex relationships were likely a foreign concept to the authors of the Biblical texts. Many scholars agree that they were writing specifically about sexual idolatry. Regardless, it’s certainly not clear.”
FRIEND: “Well, I know there’s something about homosexuality being an abomination in Leviticus…or is it Judges? Either way, I know it’s in there. And I know Paul says it’s wrong too. Just read that one verse in Romans. Also, God made males and females. That’s clear according to science.”
ME: “Yeah, well the truth is, it’s not black and white. It’s a complicated issue, and there are so many questions about the context and culture surrounding those few verses that you’re referencing, and many theologians believe it’s possible that none of those verses are actually referring to faithful monogamous same-sex relationships. Lots of smart people believe the questions outweigh the answers regarding the history and meaning behind those passages. There are a few books I’d recommend if you want to check it out for yourself. What do you say?”
“Wow. Well… I’m not sure I’d
trust those liberals who write those kinds of books. Anyway, maybe I will research it a little
more someday, but for now I have to trust what my pastor says.”
ME: “That’s fine. But if you ever want to find out for yourself, just know that there are some brilliant people with new and healthy perspectives on this incredibly important topic. Ultimately, I’d encourage you to pray and ask the Lord to reveal the truth about God’s heart for LGBTQ+ individuals. More importantly, ask God to bring some LGBTQ+ Christians into your life to share their own stories with you. Remember, God is bigger than the Bible. God is alive and doing new things all the time in our world! Isn’t that reassuring?”
usually when the conversation ends. “Check, please.”
In January, my pastor and I met to discuss this topic, and he was anxious to hear about where we stood. Thankfully, at this point I had met with lots of people to explain our new discoveries, and I was getting pretty good at sharing how Kalle and I had come to this conclusion. However, he wasn’t too interested in hearing how we came to our conclusion, or even about our research. He was more interested in hearing about how this new perspective might be received by the church board and other members. That’s understandable.
Our initial meeting went well. He was open to my perspective and conceded that our views might be more consistent with the views of our college students, which would allow us to grow our reach on campus. He said he admired my passion for theological study, and he was aware that this was an important topic that we should all try and learn more about someday. I assured him that I had spent the better part of two years researching and praying about God’s heart on this topic. More than what we think the Bible might say regarding this issue, I had been seeking the truth about what God says concerning LGBTQ+ inclusion. I hadn’t come to this conclusion lightly, and I was excited about the new relationships we’d been building as a result of our newfound openness. He seemed optimistic and I was ecstatic that we would get to keep our jobs and continue ministering to college students at CWU.
The next day, however, he called me back into his office. After giving it a little more thought, and after chatting briefly with another board member from our church, he realized that he couldn’t budge on the issue of LGBTQ+ inclusion. He said that according to the church’s policy (and the views of the denomination) this was a deal-breaker. He asked Kalle and I to either uphold the church’s policy of prohibiting LGBTQ+ students from serving… or leave. When I pressed the issue, asking if we might be able to meet with the board and share more about our perspective and our heart behind why we came to this conclusion, his response was clear: “No, that’s not an option. This issue really is black and white.”
At the end of February, we were given an ultimatum: we could
keep our jobs and prohibit LGBTQ+ students from fully participating in the
college ministry or we could leave.
Seeing as we had just been led down this path of new life by God’s great
hand of grace, understanding the truth of God’s diversity and inclusiveness, we
knew we could not compromise on our theological convictions. We had to leave.
* Sidenote: The church was incredibly
gracious throughout our resignation process.
Our pastor even apologized on behalf of the leadership, as he realized
that this issue should have been discussed before we were hired. While we did not want to resign, we all
realized that this was not the best fit for us, and everyone involved was
respectful of these differing views. All
in all, our departure was healthy which we are thankful for!
I had hoped that we could begin to dialogue about this issue with the church staff and board of elders. Couldn’t we all sit down and talk openly about this topic, consider different views and perspectives and pray together as a community of faith about this issue that has caused so much harm to LGBTQ+ individuals? I mean, this issue is not resolved by any means. In reality, the topic of LGBTQ+ inclusion in the Christian church has caused many scholars to scratch their heads for decades. Also, in the past twenty years, science has begun to catch up with us and we finally know the truth: LGBTQ+ individuals cannot change the way they are. Sexual identity is core to who we are as human beings, and so is our sexual orientation.
When my pastor informed me that neither he nor our board of elders were interested in hearing a different perspective on this topic, I began to wonder why. There is another perspective worth considering. When Kalle and I invited the Holy Spirit to guide our process, opening our minds to a new and different perspective, our minds and hearts were transformed. We prayed every day for a year that if we were wrong about this that God would help correct our views. Instead, God continued to guide us down this path towards inclusion, inspiring our biblical study and bringing new friends into our world.
One of the most convicting realizations that I experienced on this journey came when I was meeting with Sharon (remember Sharon from Chapter 6?). She was in the middle of explaining how she had tried to deny her own sexual orientation since she was about 10 years old because she was being told by her parents and her church that she was “unnatural”. When she realized she couldn’t change who she was, she tried to take her own life. She couldn’t live with the fact that every time she saw a pretty girl and experienced that release of oxytocin (oxytocin is a hormone that is released in the body when we experience physical or sexual attraction, which we have no control over), she was filled with guilt and shame. What if Sharon had the freedom to enjoy a faithful monogamous relationship with someone she is attracted to, just like any heterosexual person?
about this: When you met your husband or
wife, or significant other, did you make a conscious
decision to be attracted to that person? NO! You
just were. It’s no different for
someone who is attracted to individuals of the same sex. They experience the same kind of attraction. And guess what… we don’t get to tell other people
who they are attracted to. We don’t get to decide how someone else feels.
* Sidenote – We also don’t get to mandate celibacy. Celibacy is a unique and personal calling. What is more accurate is to say that we are all “called” to companionship as revealed in Genesis 2:18 (Interestingly, the word we translate as ‘partner’ or ‘companion’ here is actually a masculine noun in the Hebrew, ‘E’zer’, which is also used to refer to God throughout the OT). I’ve received many emails from people saying there is a “third way.” In other words, “Mark, we don’t have to ‘exclude’ or ‘affirm’, we can just tell LGBTQ+ individuals that as long as they remain single/alone, it’s all good! That’s pretty rough logic, as any limitation on inclusion is simply exclusion. Not to mention the fact that this contradicts God’s proclamation that it’s not good for us to be alone. No more trying to mandate celibacy, please.
I know, I know… I’ve heard the same old arguments countless times: “Well then, based on your arguments, should we just let murderers keep on murdering because they feel like it, Mark?” I think we are all intelligent enough to understand the difference between killing another human (or embracing a sexual addiction, or cheating on your wife, etc…) and making a lifelong commitment to love and serve another human. There is a clear difference between causing harm and choosing to live in a faithful union with another individual, which is a reflection of God’s heart for covenant relationship, mutual respect and love.
Let me briefly say, if you are one of those individuals who is willing to argue for the exclusion of a certain group of people, let’s go ahead and make sure we get the whole picture. Here are a few of the “clear” statements from the Bible about how Christians should live (and these are just the ones that kind of make sense for us in today’s culture, excluding the verses that prohibit eating shellfish and child sacrifice, etc…): Love your enemies (Matt. 5), give to everyone who begs from you (Luke 6), do not judge one another (Luke 6), it is not lawful for men to divorce their wives (Mark 10), take nothing for your journey (Luke 10), give food to the hungry, welcome the stranger (alien, immigrant) as you welcomed me (Lev. 19:34), take care of the sick, visit prisoners (Matt. 25), and my personal favorite: sell all your possessions and give to the poor (Mark 10). Why aren’t there more Christians who have taken a vow of poverty?
How are there Christian pastors (like myself) that live in nice houses and drive nice cars? How do Christians justify living a middle-class (or upper-class) lifestyle while so many people in the world go hungry, completely disregarding this clear biblical teaching? At the end of the day, aren’t we all just picking and choosing the verses we want to live by and those we wish to ignore?
And if this is the case, how could we ever choose to defend an obscure and highly debated teaching that alienates and causes harm to an already vulnerable population, in light of Jesus’ own ministry of radical inclusion? Should our theology cause harm? Shouldn’t we default to inclusion and radical love instead of moral superiority (since none of us will measure up anyway according to Paul; Romans 2:1)? Not to mention the fact that the single commandment that Jesus tells us to live by (the one that fulfills all the law and prophets) is to simply love one another?
The truth is, this issue requires more than a conversation around biblical interpretation. In order to faithfully engage this topic, we must learn to embrace reality. In this case, loving our LGBTQ+ brothers and sisters means paying attention to their suffering and no longer denying the reality that sexual identity and orientation is not black and white. I’m going to complicate things a bit more here and share another fascinating fact as related to the real gender spectrum: it’s estimated that 1 to 2 in 2000 children born in the US are born with both sexual organs (This is according to an article published by ABC News, and if you’re interested in learning more just Google it). These children used to be called hermaphrodites (that’s considered derogatory today), now they are referred to as ‘intersex’. Today, doctors are asked to choose (with the parents’ approval) the appropriate gender for the child, and most perform the necessary procedure before the child is 18 months old. Unfortunately, there is a high rate of inaccuracy when choosing the appropriate gender (some estimate as high as 50% rate of inaccuracy).
Maybe you’re asking yourself, “Why can’t they just look at Chromosomes and choose? It’s pretty straight forward isn’t it?” Actually, no it isn’t. Gender is truly fluid. Biological sex is determined by five factors present at birth: the presence or absence of a Y chromosome, the type of gonads, the sex hormones, the internal genitalia (such as the uterus in females), and the external genitalia. To further muddy the waters, the test results are not just either male or female, they can actually be on a sliding scale between the two. When doctors are unable to line up all of these factors, babies that grow up as female actually have the chromosomal and genetic make-up of a male, or vice versa. This can result in a tortured childhood, and when the child hits puberty this often causes visible gender confusion, which results in bullying, depression and higher rates of suicide. Unfortunately, this can be true for LGB individuals as well.
According to a recent report published by the CDC, nearly one third of LGB youth have attempted suicide in the past year. That’s compared to only 6% of heterosexual youth. Sociologists and psychologists claim that these higher rates of depression and suicide are a direct result of being bullied, discriminated against, misunderstood and rejected by family and friends, and being excluded from places of worship and social circles. Don’t believe me? Sit down with a LGBTQ+ individual and ask them to share their story with you.
In light of this tragic reality, how should Christian leaders respond? Should Christians ignore these statistics and the reality of this human suffering and continue to uphold “traditional biblical teaching” (or our denominational versions of this biblical teaching) for the sake of preserving a moral standard? Let’s not forget the whole point (the overarching theme) of Paul’s letter addressed to the church in Rome, that in regard to morality, we all fall short of the glory of God and are saved by God’s unending grace. Praise the Lord!
How does Jesus respond to those who are suffering? Perhaps, instead of living in denial, grasping for an idealistic world where only the righteous get to decide who’s in and who’s out, we might begin to pay attention to the voices of those who have been marginalized and oppressed. These beloved voices might inspire us to re-examine our traditional Biblical teaching, much like we have done surrounding past issues like circumcision, divorce, women in leadership, and slavery (to name a few), in hopes of discovering a more inclusive and affirming approach? Will we take the time to listen?
2015, Gary Gates, a researcher at UCLA, estimated that roughly 4% of the
population of America identify as LGBTQ+.
This is an old statistic and also a conservative one, as many LGBTQ+
individuals remain in the closet for fear of being ostracized or condemned by
their families or communities. According
to this figure, there were approximately 20 students in our former college
congregation of 400 who identify as LGBTQ+.
Simply put, there are a lot of LGBTQ+ individuals in the US. And if you keep walking down this rabbit trail
of statistics you’ll find that of the 9 million LGBTQ+ individuals in the USA,
roughly 7 million of those maintain some kind of Christian faith (this is based
on PEW Research data which suggests that some 70% of Americans claim some type
of Christian faith).
Many brilliant scholars and pastors have gone back to the biblical text to try and figure out if there’s room for this diverse gender spectrum in the greater theological conversation. The fact is, LGBTQ+ individuals do exist (and there are a lot of them), and they can’t change the way they are. So, is there a chance that we have misinterpreted and abused Scripture for the sake of preserving our heteronormative Christian culture? That’s certainly a question that’s worth asking and it certainly wouldn’t be the first time. Especially considering the fact that LGBTQ+ youth are 40% more likely to attempt suicide because they feel they don’t belong. This is serious, y’all.
I have witnessed first-hand the harmful effects of this traditional biblical teaching and the resulting policy of exclusion against LGBTQ+ individuals. We must understand that the Bible was never intended to be used as a tool to promote our individual ideologies and personal theological convictions (especially when they cause harm). In fact, this diverse and expansive collection of poems, songs, letters and accounts that were written by many different people (with a limited and ancient knowledge of biology, psychology, and ecology) over a span of roughly 1500 years, hand-picked more than 300 years after they were written and included in the canon, were compiled specifically to do one thing: Point us to the Christ, the one “who is all and in all” (Col. 3:11). This begs the question: What if God made us this way and loves us this way? What if this gender spectrum is another example of God’s beauty and diversity? What if there is a way to uphold the authority of the Biblical texts as they were intended to be read and used, while still affirming our LGBTQ+ brothers and sisters? Oh wait… I’m getting ahead of myself.
 For those who support conversion/reparative therapy, you should note that Exodus International, an Evangelical organization that was focused on “curing” homosexuals, shut its doors in 2011 after 30 years of operation. Their president, Alan Chambers, admitted a 100% failure rate. They were never able to alter any patient’s sexual orientation. You can read more here: https://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2015/10/the-man-who-dismantled-the-ex-gay-ministry/408970/