Blessed by the struggle

Last Monday I attended a meeting of a small, conservative campus ministry group featuring a speaker, Jana Harmon from the C.S. Lewis Institute in Atlanta, who was invited to share “what the bible says about homosexuality.” What I want to tell you about is just how downright misleading, deceptive, poorly cited and falsely polarizing the speaker was – and she was so I will, but not in this blog post. Frankly it’s gonna take more than one post to unpack all that was wrong with what she had to say.

What I most need to share with you was how it felt to be in that room for an hour and a half as a silent witness.

I met my friend, a chaplain, with whom I was to attend the meeting in the parking lot a little after dark. We walked toward the chapel that was glowing just across the perfectly manicured quad and though we were both exhausted from our respective busy days, my heart was speeding up as we opened the massive oak doors of the chapel. We took the small flight of stairs to the lower chapel room that sits nestled among an azalea and rock garden that we could see through three glass walls.

Abby* greeted us at the entrance with a warm smile and an outstretched hand. My friend she knew but I was an unfamiliar face that she welcomed with with genuine kindness. In the room chairs were set up in a circle, creating a small conversation setting rather than the impersonal presentation atmosphere I had anticipated. Young women were chatting with comfortable familiarity and a few older women sat at the far end of the circle, one maybe in her 40′s like me that I knew to be the speaker Jana, and a couple of women likely in their 60s.

I felt every bit the stranger and my internal posture began to shift to adjust to this unexpectadly intimate space.

A young woman who introduced herself as Brianna called those gathered to attention and invited us to introduce ourselves with our name and what we were most looking forward to in the next month. As introductions moved around the circle, the older women speaking of upcoming events with their husbands and families and the younger of being done with papers, finals and remaining tennis matches. I quickly made the decision to NOT share how much I was looking forward to the final four being over and my partner being released from a week of 12 hours shifts protecting the masses that had descended on Atlanta. I chose instead to mention a looming deadline at work.

Why did I not share what was truly on my heart, what every fiber of my being was looking forward to in the next few days? My commitment for this discussion about “what does the bible say about homosexuality” was to be an active listener and a silent witness to another way to live this Christian life. To jump right into this new group waiving my rainbow flag and chucking glitter in their faces would alter the trajectory of the conversation and do something I did not want to do. And yeah, just sharing something as simple as my heart’s desire for my family life to be restored to its mundane routine felt as radical as striding around with nothing but HRC pasties on. I also had the clear sense that my honest disclosure might make these women feel unsafe to express themselves in the very space they had claimed to safely explore questions of faith and sexuality. I have a whole post to share about the difference between unsafe and uncomfortable but that post too is for another day. I was as troubled by how my presence might made these young women feel as I was by the theology I knew I was about to encounter and the need to stuff myself in my portable pocket closet to be present to the conversation.

After introductions were complete (and a few more women had joined the group) Brianna invited us into prayer and a moment of worship through song. I was able to immerse in the prayer but the praise song, lovingly offered by a talented guitar player and singer, was foreign to me and my mind began to wander in anticipation of the presentation.

Two very different things occurred over the remaining ninety minutes.

Jana, the invited guest, and I the uninvited guest, sat across the room from one another though she rarely made eye contact with me. She offered a soft-spoken presentation fraught with shallow theology, negligent sociology and un-cited “facts” conveying blatant falsehoods. I was committed to being an active listener, though at times I am sure wisps of astonished steam were escaping my angry ears gratefully hidden beneath my tired hair. The only time my hand shot in the air was when Jana was rattling off a series of crazy “statistics” and I really needed her to cite her source – which she could not.

But it was the conversation among the young women that followed the sinful presentation that was a blessing of honest and loving questions and concerns as genuinely faithful people explored their ongoing struggle to reconcile their faith with friendships and a complex world opening around them. Some of the women spoke of their own frustration and anger that they were the outsiders on a predominantly “liberal” campus. Some expressed exasperation at circular conversations with queer peers where no one felt heard and everyone left hurt. A couple of African American women discussed the merits of voting based on faith but the irony of civil rights even being up for a vote in the first place seemed not to occur to them. One woman shared her conviction that though she believes homosexuality is a sin she is clear that we do not live in a theocracy so the laws of the land for all should not be based on one religious perspective. Y’all it was as hard for me to NOT run across the room and hug her as it was for me to not to throw my Chuck Taylor’s at Jana.

“So how does this make you feeeeeel?” asks my inner therapist. As infuriating as it was to listen to the cherry-picked reading of the clobber texts, a barrage of misleading “stats”, and the false dichotomy of “Christian vs. gay” – I really have heard all that crap a million times so that’s not what has stuck with me all week. What has lingered is the experience of witnessing young Christians ardently working to synthesize a rapidly changing world while holding onto their faith with integrity AND grace.

I am grateful these women have a place to gather to talk about their faith. I am grateful these women are able to struggle in community with what it means to be a Christian in the presence of a still speaking God. I am grateful that hearts and minds are wading through the complicated ecosystem of faith and civics. And I am grateful I could keep my mouth shut long enough to witness it all in a microcosm of our larger society.

Sad. Hopeful. Scared. Determined. Frustrated. Faithful. Wary. Inspired.

That is what it felt like and that is what I feel every day that I walk this journey with you. Let’s keep at it ok?

 


Except for the speaker, names have been changed.

About Kimberly Knight

Kimberly has a long history of back-pew sitting, Wednesday night supper eatin' and generally trying God’s patience since 1969. She's lucky enough to have made her technology addiction a career and serves as both the Director of Digital Strategy as a southern liberal arts college and Minister of Digital community with Extravagance UCC.

  • Bill Sahlman

    “Sad. Hopeful. Scared. Determined. Frustrated. Faithful. Wary. Inspired.” …. yes, so well done

  • Mike

    Interesting spin KK – you go beyond separating the sin from the sinner and contend that homosexuality is not a sin in the Christian faith. Rather than rewrite the dogma I chose to reject the faith as being flawed. A faith that defines your ‘humanity’ as sinful is flawed in its core. And a Christianity where homosexuality is not a sin is a new Christianity. One that needs to use the new testament only perhaps, and even then it may be a stretch. You can’t reconsider your sexuality but perhaps you should reconsider your faith.

    • Kimberly Knight

      Oh honey – there have been Christians for a long time before me who fully affirm LGBT in the Christian life. Take a look around, do a little reading, meet some Christians outside the evangelical circles and oh, judge not…

  • Ellen Witko

    Interesting that an invited speaker (with a master’s degree) to a campus group could not cite her sources and that’s OK! I look forward to hearing more about your experience there, Kimberly. I prayed for you that night.

  • Dan

    I would appreciate an answer from those participating in this conversation – and I’m serious – to the following question: Is it possible for a Christian to hold the viewpoint that homosexuality is a sin, and not be labeled a judgmental bigot? If the answer is yes, how much evidence, and what quality, would suffice to bypass the label? Going further, is it also possible for a Christian to not be in favor of gay marriage, and not be labeled a bigot? Is not wanting to violate one’s own conscience, after years of study, struggle, and soul-searching with the topic, enough?

    • Kimberly Knight

      Dan,

      Thank you for your questions, it really seems like you are looking to understand. Let me try and answer the best way I can and maybe others will chime in because I believe discernment is best in community. Before I get to the questions please let me point out that no where in this post do I call anyone a bigot.

      Let me begin with zooming out and saying how difficult it is to answer these questions when we are coming at the ideas so differently. It seems that you are thinking of homosexuality in terms of behavior while I understand my sexuality as an intrinsic part of my humanity. So if we start there then the answers become troubling because when I hear you struggling with homosexuality I hear you struggling to accept my humanity as equivalent to yours.

      Before I label such a person a bigot I would invite them to do even more reading, get to know more people and prayerfully consider that by saying you believe homosexuality is a sin you are claiming that my very existence is a sin.

      But let’s look at it a little closer – when you say you are “not in favor of gay marriage” my bumper-sticker response is – don’t have one. More deeply and thoughtfully I can say, ok so your faith tells you that gay marriage is unacceptable. I am fine with that. What I am not ok with is when a person’s faith is used to deny others civil rights in a nation that professes a separation of church and state. Hold on tightly to your beliefs but do not assume that all Christians believe the same and do not impose your beliefs on the civil laws of the land.

      I would also ask why the years of study, struggle and soul-searching? Is there a part of you or someone you love that makes this a focus of your faith journey? Furthermore, what other things could you be equally passionate about what our faith calls us to – our struggle with greed, our willful disregard for the poor, our psycho-sexual bond with violence? The bible has way more to say about caring for the poor and welcoming the stranger than it does about sex. Are you wrestling with demons of your own that you would like to talk about more?

      Thank you for your willingness to ask in a public forum – I hope our conversation will continue.

      • http://marthaspong.com Martha

        Hi, Dan~
        Kimberly asks a great question about why it’s such a powerful issue for you. I’m interested to know the places you’ve gone and/or the resources you’ve turned to in your search for understanding. This is a polarizing set of questions, socially, politically and theologically. Have you read scholarship on both sides? Do you know gay and/or lesbian people and have you heard their witness? Here is mine. In my 20s and 30s, I read the opinions of both sides, considered the worth of my gay friends in God’s eyes and discerned, prayerfully, that they were loved by God, just as God had made them. Strangely, l couldn’t see myself that way. I struggled to fit into an identity that was not intended for me. I think I hurt myself more than I hurt others along the way, but that is only by the grace of God. In my 40s, I came out. I know I’m finally living as God made me to be, after 40+ years of pretending to be someone else. I’m more faithful, more prayerful and, I hope and pray, more useful on behalf of Jesus Christ.
        You don’t know me, Dan, but maybe there is someone you do know whose story sounds like mine. It’s my prayer that you will consider all sides of the question, through scholarship and prayer and in the movement of the Holy Spirit as found in our human relationships.

        • Dan

          Dear Martha,

          Thank you, too, for responding. I appreciate you sharing your story, and you’re absolutely, right, I’ve been floored at how polarizing this conversation has become. I didn’t mean to make it more so by asking provocative questions; instead I was just trying to ask what I feel is one of the core questions that needs to be answered in the discourse. And as I wrote to Kimberly, this community seems like a mature and immediately accessible way to have that discourse to the benefit of all of us.

          I’ve had a number of conversations with friends and family, and have read a wide variety of perspectives from this blog and others, a variety of feature and perspective articles from NYT, the religion section of Huffpost, Christianity Today, etc.; read and listened to Christian academics and leaders (Rob Bell, Brian McLaren, Mark Driscoll, etc.), and prayed to God for clarity, humility, and wisdom.

          I’m sure you have more to say about your own experience of “struggling to fit into an identity that was not intended for me,” given my response to Kimberly. I would appreciate your continued participation in the discussion, thank you.

      • Dan

        Dear Kimberly,

        Thanks for your timely reply, I really appreciate it, and your words bring me hope that this will be a polite and helpful discourse. Please understand that in no way was I insinuating that you were calling anyone a bigot. I just saw this as an intelligently-moderated conversation among adults and have experienced, heard, and read that “bigot” is the one of the few appropriate words left for those who hold the viewpoint I outlined. This is my entry into the public discourse on this topic, and as a disclaimer, I am not gay, but I do have gay friends and they sometimes don’t know what to believe or think about themselves or this topic in general. They are very much in the process of forming their identity as it relates to their sexuality. I was hoping that my brevity would provide a simple foundation from which to start but I think that may have backfired. Let me back up and go a little deeper.

        First, I think you’re incorrect to say that we’re coming at the ideas so differently, but I see how you could have interpreted it this way because the term “homosexuality” itself is used to describe different things. The way it is most commonly associated in statements like, “homosexuality is a sin” is in reference to behavior, yes. And from what I understand from your reply, you’re making sure we make the distinction that sexuality is not just about behavior, it’s about our humanity (or I would say, our identity). To which I agree; well-said. I’ve found it helpful to separate the terminology, then, into 2 similar but distinct terms: “same-sex attraction” (referring to humanity, or what’s intrinsic) and “homosexuality” (referring to the outward expression of the intrinsic quality). The dictionary definition includes both in the term “homosexuality” (which in my view, leads to misguided, sometimes angry, and often hurtful discourse between the two ends of the spectrum of understanding on this topic). So we’re not starting there, and the answers don’t, then, have to become troubling, as you say. So then in your third paragraph you’ve placed me where I haven’t yet gone: that if I identify you as someone with same-sex attraction as a part of your humanity, I am claiming that your very existence is sin. I would never do so.

        As an aside, I think we can all agree that Jesus himself expressed [some would say extreme] opposition to a behavior-based view of sin. For him, it is about our intentions and the condition of our heart – and not what we do – that really matters. He made that clear in the Sermon on the Mount when he starts, “you’ve heard it said…”

        So let’s start with where you went: before we get to any outward expression of anything inside of us, we have to examine the “humanity” part, first. And what I hear you saying – and please let me know if this is an oversimplification – is that since your sexuality is inside of you, it is an expression of how you are created by God, and it is good.

        I don’t have the same understanding of the Christian perspective of the human condition. I believe that I am made in the image of God, yet my humanity has been inherently flawed by the condition of this world (whether through genetic predisposition, childhood/adolescent experience, societal influence, or something else; it doesn’t really matter why). I affirm that there are things inside of me that are not inherently good. I could list them for you… things like having a tendency toward being angry, or different aspects of my own sexuality as a heterosexual male (which I can list if I need to). And that is what necessitates my need for Christ – not for him to simply fix all the “behavioral” mistakes I’ve made but to truly heal me and regenerate me: body, soul, and spirit.

        So, my humanity is absolutely equivalent to everyone else’s, including yours, in that we are all broken, in a long list of ways, and we are in need of healing. Please be sure: I’m not making any statement about your sexuality, here. I’m merely outlining the Christian understanding of the human condition.

        As unhealthy people, we are in need of a physician. As Jesus said, it is not the healthy that need a physician, but the sick. His point in saying this was that people who think they’re already healthy (in his time, the Pharisees) have no felt need for a physician, to their own detriment. Alternatively, submitting to the physician sometimes calls for excruciatingly painful (but good and right and healthy) procedures, surgeries, etc. In fact, it goes well beyond surgery, into death and resurrection, to a new body and soul and spirit.

        I think I’ll stop there because it won’t be helpful to go any further before we get this part firmed up with each other. Thanks again for taking the time.

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/kimberlyknight/ Kimberly

          Dan,

          Please forgive me for being late to reply to your questions. I have been running around with family obligations and I did not want to contribute to this conversation in a rush. There is a lot going on in the many comments and I am grateful not only for your commitment to the dialog but for everyone who has contributed so far. I am a bit tired from all of my running around so I hope I can rise to the occasion – I really don’t want to leave this conversations unanswered for too long.

          One thing I would like to invite you to do, if you have not yet, is to read more of my posts to learn a little more about where I am theologically. I am a Christian who does not read the bible as literal/factual infallible word of God. That distinction is critical because it is the springboard for much more of our conversation.

          With that said, I do not believe that homosexual identity OR behavior is inherently sinful. There are reams and reams of theological writing by folks who are a less sleep deprived than I right now (one lovely book to check out is Gene Robinson’s new book, Justin Lee’s book Torn is good and you have met Jeff Chu – his book is next on my reading list but I have heard great things about it). Walter Wink has a great book as does Jack Rogers – Jesus, The Bible and Homosexuality. Boiled down it is this – the few pericopes we have as part of the complex collection of books we call the bible that speak about what we now call homosexuality were written in a very specific time and place addressing very specific cultural concerns and practices. Those verses are not referring to what we understand as committed same-sex relationships between consenting adults. We could debate the individual words and their original meaning is but that is not really the point of my blog. My blog is more about meeting people and hearing stories.

          But do I believe in sin? Do I believe we can be “unhealthy” and separated from God through our choices and behavior? Yes. Do I believe there are guidelines about this in the bible? Yes. Do I believe that these guidelines are limited to the bible? No. But of the “sins” in the bible that I take very seriously they all boil down to how we treat one another and how our hearts are oriented to God – God as reflected in the faces of the poor, the imprisoned, the stranger. For me our brokenness and turning away from God is evident in violence we celebrate, in the way as a culture we have chosen to worship Mammon at the expense of our sisters and brothers, in the way we happily destroy the gift of creation just so long as we can driver farther – faster, the excruciating inhospitality we have for strangers…the list goes on and on. Those things we do that rob another of their humanity and diminish or destroy their ability to see GOd in and through us – or in and trough themselves – that is sin.

          Sexuality can be lived out – gay or straight – in ways that are loving, respectful and generous. Our sexuality can be a gift that honors our humanity, honors the spark of God within us all and honors the person with whom we share that gift. Likewise both straight and gay people can use others and their own bodies in ways that is hurtful and harmful. When we treat one another as objects to be used and thrown away – in any context – that is sin.

          Now – as to the original question. I am perfectly comfortable with people of faith who believe that homosexuality is a sin as long as they live that faith out in such as way as not to harm others. I am deeply troubled by people of faith that believe that their faith gives them a right to judge others and prescribe how they should live. I am troubled by people of faith that place dogma above relationship – and in fact as I do read the bible I understand that Jesus had a great deal to say about the hyper-religiosity of people who chose law over love. Is that bigotry? No, not exactly, but it is not love. And God is love – and though we can make choices to separate ourselves from loving one another – nothing, nothing, nothing can separate us from the love of God. Romans 8:38-39

          I will lift up more via posts here and I hope that you will keep hanging around as long as you feel comfortable and extend the same grace and respect I have sensed in you so far.

          Kimberly

    • http://doesjesusreallyloveme.com Jeff Chu

      Dan,
      For me—and I feel the need to say this because there’s going to be a lot of diversity among gay and lesbian people about when (and how quickly) such labels should be applied—attitude, timing, and spirit affect how I respond. For instance, if I’ve just met someone for the first time and he quickly says, “You know, homosexuality is sin and you can’t be gay and Christian,” well, that might invite a strong reaction—and I think rightly so. But I also have very dear friends who, for conscience and theological reasons, chose not to attend my wedding last year. They were gentle and careful in declining the invitation, and because my husband and I have had years of friendship with these people, we don’t see them as bigots. We break bread together, we love them, they love us, and we are a part of each other’s lives, but we simply disagree on this issue. In the case of one of these friends in particular, I’ve seen her struggle with it in a prayerful and heartfelt manner. Context matters, and motive matters too.
      I try very hard to empathize. I want to walk with that friend through her struggle (to understand her mixed emotions on questions of sexuality and our faith), and she has tried her best to walk with me through mine (different but also important questions of sexuality and our faith). I try my best to extend to others the grace that I would like to receive myself, knowing that God can use our relationships powerfully to teach us and to help us grow. Sometimes I fail at that, and sometimes I’m pretty quick to judge. But then we all make mistakes.
      I also keep in mind that there are bigots on every part of the theological spectrum. I recently published a book about the intersection of homosexuality and Christianity, and I’d guesstimate that I’ve gotten just about as many bigoted emails from the liberal/atheist end of the spectrum as from the conservative/fundamentalist side. We shouldn’t tolerate bigotry when we see it, but I try also not to be too quick to cry “bigot!” and to cut off an opportunity for a gracious conversation that’s potentially educational and constructive not just for the other party but also for me.
      I remember a piece of advice my husband gave me the first time I went home to visit my (very conservative) parents after I came out. It wasn’t what I expected. “Be humble,” he wrote in a text message. Starting there and proceeding carefully, I don’t think anyone—no matter what our position on divisive issues and especially when we are wrestling in community on such topics—can go wrong.
      Hope that helps, and let me echo Kimberly’s note of gratitude for the questions and for your seeking spirit.

      • Dan

        Dear Jeff,

        Thanks for your comments, humility, and gratitude. I really appreciate you pointing out that there’s a diversity of viewpoints within the GLBTQ community on this issue and how all of us, really, view our own identity, regardless of whether or not we consider ourselves Christians, because that’s what I’ve experienced. In fact, I have a [self-proclaimed Christian] friend that will be getting married to her partner soon. Your story with your dear friend gives me great hope that we can continue to engage in dialog and continue to love each other regardless of whether or not I attend the wedding. That said, when I got married, there were some who chose not to come, for a variety of reasons, and each time it hurt. So I acknowledge that it could forever be a sore spot.

        One of the things I’ve struggled with is that for my friend getting married, she’s now in a relationship with a woman after a string of terrible heterosexual relationships, where I would define the men as bigots and jerks, who weren’t at all interested in loving her well. After hearing her experience, it’s clear she’s been completely mistreated by her former boyfriends (and former fiance, also a man). She would say she’s not necessarily attracted to someone of the same sex, now, per se, when she wasn’t before; I think she would describe it as “finding love” because she’s found someone who actually cares about her deeply in a way she hasn’t experienced before, and that person happens to be another woman. So for her, it’s more a matter of contentment than a matter of sexual identity. I don’t hear those kinds of stories very often in the discourse – that someone may, in fact, not identify as having same sex attraction (having it be about their identity), or maybe not even want to be labeled “homosexual,” but still desire to be married to a same-sex partner. There are many subtleties like these we have to tackle to have a full discussion on the topic.

        I’d be interested in taking a look at your book. Can you provide a link?

    • http://www.butnotyet.com Joel Rieves

      Personally, I agree with you, Kimberly: one’s sexuality is a part of who they are. That said, I think you can view homosexuality as a sin and not be a judgmental bigot. When my daughter came out, her older sister told her that while she didn’t agree with homosexuality, she loved her and supported her no matter what. She’s not against same-sex marriage, either. Her take is that it’s not for her to judge what others do. I see it as a waypoint on the road to LGBT equality.
      As to the question can you not be in favor same-sex marriage, and not be labeled a bigot, I honestly don’t know. But, the question you need to ask yourelf isn’t whether being against same-sex marriage makes you a bigot, but rather am I loving my neighbor when I tell someone they can’t marry the person they love based on my interpretation of the Bible. Only you can answer that.

      • Dan

        Thanks for your reply, Joel. It’s important for me to hear how each one of us views their own sexuality, and whether or not it’s a part of identity. As I wrote above in my response to Kimberly, I share your viewpoint. as for my 2nd question: I realized (too late) that getting into the same-sex marriage question might be rushed just yet… so I’m taking a step back to the same-sex attraction/homosexuality question for now.

        More to my main concern, then: I don’t feel the “need” to ask myself anything more about the topic, really (I’ve done enough of that already without engaging in the public discourse), but instead I need to engage with you all; to ask those in the middle of the public discourse whether expressing a viewpoint like this one or something similar, is immediately going to get me dismissed from the discourse? Because I want to make sure I’m not dismissed, just like everyone else doesn’t want to me dismissed, so that the conversation can continue in a way that’s more pointed and “real” than an academic exercise, yet also without some of the emotional baggage tied up in talking about it with close friends and family members. I’m trying to figure out what’s “permissable,” per se, in the public debate. And judging from the responses so far, I’m really encouraged, because it sounds like there’s room for this in the discourse. Thank you all for that.

        My hope is that we get to answer my 2nd question in this discourse, but I don’t think we’re there, yet. One example of the long journey we have in front of us is your statement that we must love our neighbor… we each have vastly different definitions of what love is, especially in our love-confused American culture. I’d like to keep eating this elephant one bite at a time…

        • http://www.butnotyet.com Joel Rieves

          Dan, let me say that “you” in my first reply was not aimed at you specifically. If it came off that way, I apologize. Because you’re the only person to ask this question, I meant the “you” as inclusive of us all; as in, maybe we’re approaching this from the wrong angle.
          Unfortunately, there are always going to be those who dismiss anyone with the temerity to disagree with them and they reside on both sides of the progressive/conservative divide. I know that I have to work at this; it’s all too easy for me to say someone’s an idiot when their views don’t match mine and then proceed to tell them why they’re an idiot. I do think you’ve picked an excellent place to start a dialogue. Kimberly is pretty good at making sure all voices are heard and respected. She’s a mother and a good southern girl and neither one will put up with rudeness. If you ever feel like I’m not respecting your voice, feel free to let me know.

    • http://www.ucrowayton.org Carla Dietz

      “Bigot: a person who is obstinately or intolerantly devoted to his or her own opinions and prejudices; especially : one who regards or treats the members of a group (as a racial or ethnic group) with hatred and intolerance.” So the question Dan asks begs another question. Does your conscience make you obstinately or intolerantly devoted to your own opinions and prejudices, especially regarding LGBTQ individuals? If so, then the answer is yes, you are a bigot. If not, then not. I think sometimes we feel our struggles, study and knowledge of a subject clouds our own self motivation. Only Dan can answer the question for Dan.

      • Dan

        Thank you Carla, for replying and putting context around the label “bigot”. As I responded to Joel, my question really isn’t about whether or not I’m being true to my conscience (I believe God has trained me to become very uncomfortable in my own skin when I am not), but it’s about whether or not I could still be considered relevant in the discourse if I hold this view. Put another way, “Is this viewpoint that ‘homosexuality is a sin’ an acceptable starting point for a conversation on this topic?” I think what you’ve done by highlighting the dictionary definition is that there is an aspect of obstinance and intolerance necessary in order to be labeled a bigot. It sounds like your interpretation, though, is one of internal validation (as long as I can answer that “my conscience is not intolerantly devoted”…; “Only Dan can answer the question for Dan”), rather than one of external validation.

        On the contrary, my experience is that that obstinance or intolerance (and bigotry itself) is something that is externally applied to – and simultaneously not internally validated by – [some of] those that hold the viewpoint that homosexuality is “sin”. Put another way, many of the folks I’ve talked to in Christian circles would absolutely affirm that they’re not intolerantly devoted to prejudice, but they are labeled that way by outsiders, and that instantly makes them irrelevant in the conversation. What I’m trying to make clear is that in my experience in the public discourse on this or any other topic, I do not answer the question for myself; others do for me, so I better make sure I do my best to facilitate the right decision (which in my mind, is to not label me a bigot!)

        I’m not sure I understand your point about motivation… are you saying that I may be motivated by potentially obstinate or intolerant prejudices, that I’m not conscious of, rather than a genuine search for truth/beauty/health/wholeness/righteousness?

        Thanks again for your comments.

    • ron

      Hey Dan: Just a quick response after reading your questions and the responses to it. I hope that you stick around this website for awhile Dan. As I’ve said to others who hold your view, I am probably more conservative theologically than any other christian who has commented here with an opposing view to KImberly, except that I strongly favor gay marriage right in the civil arena and complete rights and privileges to anyone who is a homosexual as long as I am allowed to exclude that right within the church. Dan, you will have to search hard to find someone more gracious and kind to discuss this with than Kimberly. You see that graciousness in the others who responded to you as well. I would also say to those who responded to Dan and raised questions about his “struggle” with this. While I can’t answer for Dan, I suspect he is like me. That is, I have been part of a christian “group think” over the last decades who thought only one way in regard to a christian response to homosexuality. I have seen and observed the hypocrisy of much of that and I too have struggled long and hard. I began to believe very firmly that there must be a more thoughtful biblical approach to this discussion that obviously will not fit the categories that have prevailed on either side for so many years. I find Kimberly’s moderation of the discussion here to be a breath of fresh air. Thanks for your quesions Dan and please, don’t go away.

      • Dan

        Dear Ron,

        You’re right, I’ve been really impressed by and thankful for the responses thus far. Thanks for letting me know where you stand and encouraging me to stick around. I would say that you’re mostly accurate in what you suspect about my struggle: that there is a much more excellent way to handle this conversation, rather than the polarizing sound-bytes I’ve heard over and over again, like two armies in trench warfare lobbing grenades at each other. I am hopeful for something much more, while acknowledging that the best possible outcome might be that we agree to disagree. But even that is a major improvement over what I’ve observed recently with all the hate-speech, animosity, and rage each side has poured on the other. There is a lack of a third voice in this conversation, and my guess is, that’s exactly why Kimberly put this blog together in the first place. I thought it could benefit from a more theologically conservative viewpoint. Thanks again for your encouragement, Ron!

  • http://limpingtowardsgrace.wordpress.com James Jarvis

    Your experience at the meeting resonates so much with me. I fully support marriage equality, but my denomination does not. I make no secret of my support for marriage equality to anyone who asks but I am always aware that this is one of those issues that can cause a church to split down the middle. So I constantly struggle with when I should speak out and when I should guard my tongue.

  • Seth

    Hi Ron, I’m one of those Nones you referred to. My experience is once ppl leave the institutional church, they are more likely to think things through a bit more thoughtfully, but I wouldn’t say that exclusively. And as others have noted, age is a better predictor than almost anything else. I would feel comfortable bringing up gay marriage as a serious topic with Most of my younger peers. But certainly not with any baby boomer Christian.

    • ron

      I agree. However, my wife and I are definitely “booners”, so come on over for a beer and we’ll talk.

      • ron

        Well, perhaps I have had too much beer already. I meant boomers, …not “booners”!!

  • gimpi

    Since this campus hosted this forum, would it be possible to get in a speaker to offer up better, more inclusive interpretations of the information the speaker Jana offered, and invite some of the same audience-members? Sometimes people just get in a self-reinforcing loop. It might be helpful for some of these earnest young women to hear someone explain how “Christian” and “judgmental” don’t have to always be in the same sentence.

    • Kimberly Knight

      That is a great question gimpi, but it was not an official campus event. It was a student group that invited and sponsored the event. Other groups are thinking and talking about how to offer an alternative event to lift up another voice of Christianity for those who care to hear.

  • fbridge

    I look forward to reading what it was that Jana actually said. Until the, I will reserve opinions. If she spoke truth, there is no room for argument. If she did not, then there is.

  • Nick

    Maybe it just shows how out of touch I am, but I was surprised to read that the position that “homosexuality is a sin but gay marriage should still be allowed” is such a rare position that it shocked you to hear about it.

    That’s what I believed for years before my current apparent transition into full-on Ally-ness.

    Now I have a sad…

    • Kimberly Knight

      Nick,

      I think it was a surprise because of how much digital ink is spilled over how to maintain laws that are discriminatory. It was refreshing to hear and I think that the presenter and her cohort of older women in the room were maybe a little surprised to hear it claimed so confidently by a couple of the young women in the room.

      Bless you for your full-on ally-ness!

      Kimberly

  • http://www.samesexweddingphotographers.com Cindy Brown

    Hi Kimberly:
    I cannot imagine how difficult it must have been to stay silent in that situation.
    I photographed a Catholic wedding yesterday where the priest quoted the passage from Ruth where Ruth says to Naomi: “Wherever you go, I will go; wherever you live, I will live. Your people will be my people, and your God will be my God.” He told the bride and groom and their friends and family that Ruth said this to her husband. I wanted to scream out during the service — “She didn’t say that to her husband, she said it to RUTH.” But I didn’t.

    • Kimberly Knight

      Oh my! I think that one would have me out of my seat too. Well, I know I would have had to say something to the priest afterwards like holy Mother of God, do you even read your bible?? Good for you for being more professional (or as my kid would say – not ratchet)!

    • http://um-insight.net Cynthia Astle

      @Cindy Brown: Yes, the priest misspoke, and Kimberly’s suggestion of talking with him afterward might have been helpful. However, I have learned through much trial and error that it is better to phrase what most offends me as a question, rather than a confrontation. Thus, a kindly question of the priest — “Excuse me, Father, but I’m a little confused by your statement about Ruth. Did you mean to say ….?” might uncover the reality that the priest really did warp scripture to serve the church’s purpose, or that in the tension of the moment he simply had a brain fart. It’s hard to do, I know, and I’m still imperfect at it, but I find it more effective these days.

      @Kimberly: Your ability to turn a phrase and your insights continue to delight and enlighten me. I’m not sure I have had your self-discipline regarding the speaker, but then as a heterosexual woman I haven’t had to live with a constant barrage of error about my sexual orientation. Perhaps with more practice, I will become a more composed ally for all my dear LGBTQ sisters and brothers. Thanks for the good example, and I look forward very much to more reports from this meeting.

      • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/kimgerlyknight Kimberly Knight

        I like your approach to the priest WAY better! Thanks for being at the table with us all!

    • Graver

      Ruth said this to Naomi.

      15 “Look,” said Naomi, “your sister-in-law is going back to her people and her gods. Go back with her.”
      16 But Ruth replied, “Don’t urge me to leave you or to turn back from you. Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God.

  • Glennyce

    First, and this is a total piece of minutia…but everything is posting in on your blog for the 15th and its still the 14th…

    Second…I bow to your ability to silently observe…just reading this made me want to jump in and interrupt about 20,000 times…

    Like you, I think I have to digest this some more…it makes me so sad I just about cant speak…you know, our Tribe says Whoever you are and wherever you are on your journey you are welcome here…and the frustrating thing for me is that I have to let that apply to Jana and others with the same thought process…and I don’t want to. How, how how can someone preach such exclusion? Especially when the other in your face text…at least for me…is, love God, love your neighbor. Is that what the other women were trying to work through? God asks us every day to love the “other” and “other” is so undefined that we keep trying to parameters on it. For me that limitless parameter just means…love everyone because in essence we are all “other”.
    So….interesting and heartfelt conversations get opened in many ways, I take courage in the fact that you heard thoughtful conversation and good questions and I ask that God work in the usual mysterious ways and use this moment as an inbreaking into the beloved community . Thank you for inviting us into the conversation as well!

    • Kimberly Knight

      Yeah, the timing on my system is really weird – always has been. Patheos is about to switch to a new commenting system so hopefully this will be fixed too.

      Yes, it is very perplexing to me the seeming disconnect between what feels like judgment and the struggle to live into the greatest commandment. What I really sensed in the gathering was an honest struggle for young women (some as young as 17 maybe) to reconcile what they have been taught at home and in their churches with a wide and weird world. I also sense that they genuinely want to follow God and though they understand the bible differently than I (and many other Christians) they are committed to living a Biblically faithful life. I hope that they have the opportunity to engage many more conversations that allow them to push the boundaries of what they currently understand but that the conversations will leave them feeling as if their faith is stronger and not under attack.

      kk

      • ron

        Kimberly: I honestly think that you would be genuinely surprised at how many young people are like the two young ladies that you mention here. And not only young people. I would be in the “ladies in their 60′s” group and I am certainly not alone there either. But there is still little space for those of us who struggle with this tension. My wife and I have probably 20 friends who have just bailed out and don’t go to church anymore. There are a lot, lot of people who differ from you theologically on the topic discussed here but who also realize that the republic party and the talk show hosts have hijacked the gospel and its time to regain it and to live in a pluralistic society while loving your neigbor with integrity and grace.

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/kimgerlyknight Kimberly Knight

          Ron, I sure wish way more of those folks who know the gospel has been hijacked would speak up. I really need to hear more of their voices, we all do.

        • gimpi

          Ron, I think the huge rise of the ‘nones’ are a part of this. For many of us, religion has been contaminated with this right-wing, exclusionary, hard-hearted, legalistic, take-no-prisoners cr@p. Rather than trying to engage with people who don’t seem to be willing to listen or learn, it’s just easier to pull away. Hearing about young women like this gives me hope that, perhaps, some are willing to listen and learn. And maybe change.

          • ron

            +1

  • T J McGiffert

    Kimberly I applaud you for having the courage to attend and the grace to let them be where they are. Actually, my gut instinct was to have no respect for an academic institution where this kind of crap is still allowed but then I realized the conversation needs to take place even though we have no patience left for it. As a former Presbyterian, I realized I would be a very old man by the time they “get it” and God had things for me to do and wasting my time in this debate which Mel White declared “Over!” 13 years ago was not one of them. I respect that some christians still need more time to debate this but I am glad you are able to walk away. This is their problem now, not ours, if we make choices like yours. You have plenty to do building beloved community and sometimes walking away from a dead horse is part of that. Bless you.

    • Kimberly Knight

      Yeah TJ – it is hard but I have to say that I would be more wary of an academic institution that tried to shut down student groups who were having these conversations. There really needs to be spaces where folks can discern in community. It really still is my problem in so much as I am a member of our larger, often screwed up tribe. Though it is painful at times, if I am not present to the discourse then folks who are struggling may never know that other Christians exist. But as my blog has made readily evident, sometimes I do get a torn out of my frame and go off on all the insanity.

      Peace,
      kk

  • Ian Lynch

    Sister, you rock. Of course that is not news. Who knows if civil dialogue will ever come out of these types of encounters, but surely it won’t if more don’t follow your example. I know how hard it is to stay silent when you feel like screaming. Bless you for taking this difficult step. May we all hold these folks in our prayers, not as some sort of attack that God would change them, but that they and we may together find common ground to become the change we seek.

  • http://gravatar.com/jeffcstraka jeffcstraka

    How sad for those around the circle with honest theological struggles and questions to see Jana as the “expert” with the only “true” answers. I guess it is human nature (laziness?) to “subcontract” our search for life’s answers to those “experts” who claim to hold the authority as we question/doubt that we could possibly have the answer within us. The hierarchical structure within the church (more so in the more conservative, but even in the progressive) of God–>Bible–>Pastor seems to minimize space for “bottom up” wrestling towards resolution.

    • Kimberly Knight

      Very true Jeff but I have to say that it did not feel like the young women in the room gave her as much authority as she thought she had. That might merely be because of the age differential but I think their hearts and minds were engaged (rather than divorced) and that this is merely a part of a larger conversation they are having within themselves and with the world.

      • http://gravatar.com/jeffcstraka jeffcstraka

        And at the very least, the circle formation (rather than the traditional forward-facing) communicated a bit more respect for those gathered.

  • http://progressinginfaith.com Jason Fairbanks

    Wow. I don’t know – should I say “thank you” for being present to the group?

    Some initial thoughts – I can’t imagine C.S. Lewis coming to give a lecture on the sinfulness of homosexuality – why is “The C.S. Lewis Insitute” sending out these speakers.

    What really is the purpose of these gatherings – these people already “know” that homosexuality is “wrong” and “sinful.” Do they really have the need for someone to come in and remind them. Or are they doubting and need to be affirmed by shabby theology and statistics?

    • Kimberly Knight

      Jason,

      These are great questions for sure. This C.S. Lewis institute is specious. The speaker has a graduate degree in apologetics and was invited by this small group. It is my hope that this conversation is just a beginning on this small college campus for a deeper, more complex conversation where more voices representing different Christian perspectives can be present.

      K

    • http://refractionsandreflections.blogspot.com Melody

      Hopefully, the fact that they requested a speaker on this subject means that people ARE asking questions and acknowledging that there MIGHT be different answers than the ones they have always believed. The speaker may have presented one side and that poorly, but that doesn’t mean the individuals in the group can’t think further on it for themselves, and perhaps even recognize the weaknesses in her arguments. I myself have come to a different viewpoint by asking hard questions on my own. The groups I am a part of still think very differently about it. And I still like to read materials from both sides, but honestly, lately I have come across VERY few well-argued statements from people who claim that homosexuality is a sin. If people ask honestly (which hopefully this meeting proves they are at least asking), they can change. Hopefully next time, though, they will realize there may be others right there in the circle who have a different perspective, and be a little more welcoming!!

      • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/kimgerlyknight Kimberly Knight

        Melody,

        The young women in the room were actually very warm and welcoming and I do not think they realize the layers of inhospitality in their theology. I hope I have a chance to sit at the table with them many more times as we work to figure out how we can walk this journey in different ways but still be loving and kind.

    • ron

      Jason: I’m wondering how “welcoming and inclusive” you think it makes me feel to have you use the term “shabby theology” to blow off the thinking of anyone who might differ with you. Isn’t welcoming and inclusiveness a high value that you and others here are demanding from others in christianity but are not getting? What shabby theology or statistics has Kimberly quoted here, that you now know applies to said conversation?

      • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/kimgerlyknight Kimberly Knight

        Ron, I believe Jason may be responding to my own claim that the theology of the speaker was weak – which it was. Not simply because she believes homosexuality is sinful but the way in which she went about “proving it”. There will be time for me to unpack this more but I am not claiming that all evangelical theology is shabby, just that I encountered it as shallow that night (and other times as well).

        As you know, we can welcome one another to the table while still holding true to our own beliefs. To be clear and call what is in fact shabby is to do exactly what others claim to be doing to me – speaking truth in love.

        Still glad you are hanging around Ron!

        KK


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