The following post was written by Kevin Harris, Director of Community Relations at The Marin Foundation.
What often happens to be missing in conversations about faith & homosexuality is not just tact and love, (take a quick look at just about any comments sections after a blog post on homosexuality and the bible) but humility. As I continue to work for The Marin Foundation and regularly interact with and read thoughts by individuals coming from very different ends of the spectrum as it relates to beliefs on the topic, I continue to find myself caring less and less about what each respective person professes to believe and more about how they profess those beliefs in word and deed. While beliefs have the capacity to influence how we behave, they are not always an indicator of right motivation, action, interaction with others, etc. In looking at 1 Corinthians 13:1-3, I think it is safe to deduct that right belief without love is…..well…..worthless/nothing. We seem to forget that even if you have your hermeneutical approach down to a science and your biblical exegesis is flawless, you can still be a jerk. This is a trait that is not the sole possession of one ideological camp, but is shared by both conservatives and progressives. The overbearing and adamant certainty that many people profess makes it seem as if they have had a personal audience with God and fully heard God’s heart and perspective. And really, the material reality of our operative beliefs (how our functioning beliefs are played out in our daily circumstances) say a lot more about what we truly believe than does what we hold to be true about ourselves and our convictions.
When you think about it, are we really capable of comprehending the divine? Our incapacity to fully comprehend God, and dare I say truth, should lend itself to developing and expressing ourselves with humility and love in our theological discussions and interactions with those whom we disagree. God is infinite. We are not. A lack of humility with truth claims indicates little awareness of our own finitude. It also entertains the notion that we can fully appreciate truth. This perpetuates the epistemological arrogance that seems to be running rampant in faith circles, especially when it comes to discussions about homosexuality. Our goal should not be to make a distinction between whether truth exists, (at least on this blog as I’m assuming the readership is not made up of nihilists) but between how much we can comprehend. I have come to believe that truth is best conceived on a spectrum, not in categories of true and false. Now don’t get me wrong. I’m not trying to say that you should not develop convictions or that ‘truth’ does not exist, but rather that we are either going closer or further away from ‘truth’ as if on a spectrum depending on what we’re claiming considering that we are not God. We can approach and develop certain degrees of truth, but final and normative claims often reek of arrogance that will typically cause other parties to become put off and defensive, diminishing the probability for productive dialogue.
One of the trends in popular culture is the declining trust for spiritual authority figures. This trend is also prevalent among the youth in the church. There also seems to be ample evidence that younger generations are more comfortable than previous generations with entertaining questions and even leaving some of them unanswered. Definitive answers may do more to push away those with genuine and difficult questions if they are not approached with a sense of humility that acknowledges our intellectual limits. In looking to scripture, while Jesus did offer some very definitive statements we see that he asked more questions than he answered even though he was one with God and thus not only understood but embodied truth. This example seems to allude to their being more important goals than just ‘speaking the truth’ (even if we do have a grasp on it) and highlights the importance of utilizing questions.
There is a vast array of conclusions that individuals have arrived at while earnestly seeking God’s heart on the matter of sexuality. The hundreds of books that have been written to tell us ‘what the Bible really says about homosexuality,’ is evidence of this. Given this reality, we do ourselves and others a great service by approaching the topic with a humility that is wary of simplistic designations of truth that disregard the complexity at hand. In her post Certainty & Conviction, Wendy Gritter of New Direction states:
I think anyone who has been willing to enter the complexity of exegetical disagreements among scholars, who has studied the variety of hermeneutical methods within the Christian community, who has considered the particularities of history and culture on textual context, has set face-to-face with gay, same-sex attracted, and ex-gay Christians for long haul conversations over years of friendship, and who have wrestled to apply their understanding of God’s character to this deeply human question of the application of grace for this particular situation in our broken world will avoid black and white simplistic and reductionistic answers like “the Bible is clear”. I think anyone who has done this homework with an open heart and spirit, who may indeed have their own convictions about God’s best way forward for a same-sex attracted disciple, will also have the capacity to say they could be wrong.
Aside from the complexities within faith and sexuality, we also need to acknowledge that our theological beliefs do not develop in a vacuum. We all need to take ownership of the respective ways outside influences shape our beliefs. This allows us to have a working understanding of the biases we bring into each conversation. Only then can we begin to approach issues and topics with a sense of intellectual honesty and humility. We are all influenced by family (in whatever form that may take), early childhood experiences, race, socioeconomic status and background, personality, and the denomination or school of thought we were brought up in. We are also influenced by, among other things, the popular culture as well as those we currently surround ourselves with. Even though we are autonomous individuals capable of independent thought, I feel that we (or at least myself personally) often fail to step back and examine how the plethora of influences manifest themselves in our thought processes, how they shape our conclusions and predispose us to arrive at certain ends. I’m not sure if it’s universal, but I often find myself selectively limiting the outside influences that are within my control. Let’s be honest, it is comforting and it builds up my ego to surround myself with similar individuals (in an ideological sense) and books that reinforce aspects of my particular worldview. It does not help that in the United States we live in a culture that does not naturally lend itself to getting to know ourselves deeply. Living in a time where we are constantly bombarded by short sound bites and we often receive and communicate information in 140 characters or less, a mild form of ADD has almost become the norm.
So what are we to do with this? Maybe we should make a habit of just being quiet and listening. With such a value on being busy (often translated to mean important) it is not seen as desirable or even feasible to just be still (or at least that’s what we tell ourselves so we don’t have to face what might actually come up in our mind and heart if we allow ourselves to stop running, slow down, and just be). If we do not cultivate the practice of silence and learn to evaluate our thought processes and know ourselves, our attempts at moving towards intellectual honesty (though it may not be possible to fully reach) will continue to allude us.
Given the complexity and entrenched disagreements regarding faith & sexuality in the broader church, I hope that we can continue to move forward with our convictions in humility as we are all seeking to understand and be conformed more and more into the image of Christ. May we guide individuals, heterosexual and LGBT alike towards holiness as God has not said “be heterosexual for I am heterosexual”, but “be holy because I, the LORD your God, am holy (Leviticus 19:2)”. It is time for the idol of heterosexuality to come down as the (often discretely communicated) belief that heterosexuality is some type of a holier state of being in and of itself continues to foster shame and cripple LGB individuals spiritually, mentally and emotionally where it is communicated. And let us do so with accountability in the context of committed relationships where our on-going conformity to Christ, in knowledge, word and deed, constitutes the degree of proximity to truth. If we are to err, given the complexities of faith and sexuality, let us err on the side of grace as we strive for right understanding and action with humility in our journeys with Christ and one another.