This post is written by Michael Kimpan, our Associate Director at The Marin Foundation. You can read more from Michael at his blog here – and his book, Love Never Fails :: Building Bridges Between the Church and the Gay Community will be available for pre-order soon (March 2015, IVP).
It’s no surprise that as humans we have an inherent propensity to gravitate toward individuals and ways of thinking which reflect our own personal convictions and biases. Our ‘comfort zones’ are made up of the familiar – things which reinforce the world as we already interpret it.
This familiarity provides for us the comfort of the similar – we often surround ourselves with like-minded people – reflecting our belief systems, behaviors and preferred philosophies and perspectives.
This ‘sameness’ is indeed part of the human experience; and yet, left unchecked, it can also lend itself toward the sort of dangerous Groupishness I’ve discussed at length on the blog in the past. Creating a cultural norm of us/them || in/out and refusing to generously engage the Other can, in fact, lead us backwards to a sort of tribalism which is inherently inhospitable and ungracious.
Striking that balance is an important part of creating space for civil dialogue and disagreement.
Philosopher Michael Sandel (professor at Harvard University, considered by many the most important and popular philosopher alive) said this at the Inaugural Andrew Carnagie Lecture series at the University of St. Andrews just a few days ago ::
‘We shy away from public discourse and dialogue on controversial questions surrounding ethical issues.
The reason we shy away from engaging is we know we will disagree.
We must get to a point where we are willing to debate, dialogue, discuss, disagree and engage with one another.
Brilliant, that. As we often say in our work at The Marin Foundation, ‘Disagreement does not dictate disrespect.’ The sooner the whole of humanity — from conservative to progressive — can realize and live into this truth, the more likely we are to live into the wholeness of that same humanity.
Along these lines, my intent in writing this blog post is simply to encourage individuals to step into unfamiliar territory and to engage with others and resources they may disagree with. If you happen to hold to a more traditional, conservative interpretation of scripture, I would simply encourage you to take the time to check out Matthew Vines’ recently released book, God and the Gay Christian.
Matthew is the founder of The Reformation Project, a Bible-based, non-profit organization that seeks to reform church teaching on sexual orientation. After taking a sabbatical from his studies at Harvard University to explore and study the scriptures surrounding homosexuality, Matthew addressed his home church in Witchita, Kansas in this YouTube video.
The video quickly went viral, and soon his teaching was featured in media worldwide – including USA Today, The Washington Post and The New York Times. The culmination of that teaching is God and the Gay Christian, a book in which my friend Matthew Vines tells how, as a theologically conservative Christian, he embarked on an intensive, years-long study of the Bible to discover whether same-sex relationships can be blessed by God. In that work, he asks the following questions ::
• How could traditional beliefs have been wrong for thousands of years on such an important topic?
• What is the story of Sodom and Gomorrah really saying about human relationships?
• Can celibacy be a calling when it is mandated, and not chosen?
• What did Paul have in mind when he warned against same-sex relations?
• Do biblical teachings on the marriage covenant preclude same-sex marriage, or not?
Though neither the ideas nor the scholarship is entirely new, it is most certainly thought-provoking and engaging. In a conversation in which the affirming side is so often accused of elevating the authority of experience above the authority of scripture (as our Director of Pastoral Care, Jason Bilbrey, pointed out in his post on the book), Matthew’s is a very deliberate rebuttal. Scripture itself, he argues, brought him to an affirming position of same-sex relationships.
Not surprisingly, the book – and Matthew’s work – received mixed reviews. Even prior to its release, blogger Michael Brown penned a post entitled, ‘A Shameful Day in Evangelical Christian Publishing‘ Another responded to a conversation between Al Mohler (President of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary) and Matthew Vines, which had been hosted and initiated by Jonathan Merrit, saying to Matthew in his conclusion :: ‘We want you to embrace the truth and be saved. For that to happen you must reject the errors in your thinking and turn from your sin and trust wholly in Christ.’
Jonathan Merrit had graciously used his platform on RNS to facilitate a conversation between Matthew Vines and Al Mohler, who had preemptively written his own e-book response to Matthew’s publication. At the end of Jonathan’s post, he asked both men this question :: If there is one thing you could ask the other party and those they represent to prayerfully consider, what would it be?
Here are their responses -
Al Mohler said, ‘If the Bible, plainly understood by Christians for two thousand years, is not to be trusted to reveal our true identity, our true need, and God’s plan and purpose for our lives, then why even attempt to argue that the church has misread the Bible for two millennia? I would ask those arguing for the acceptance of same-sex sexuality and marriage within the church to consider they are trying to make of Christianity what it has never been and can never be. What is at stake is nothing less than eternal salvation. The church must not fail those with same-sex attraction by forfeiting the only gospel that leads to salvation.
Matthew’s response was this – ‘My main request to non-affirming Christians is to simply listen. If you are straight and don’t have close relationships with many gay Christians, it isn’t appropriate to respond to this conversation with knee-jerk outrage and condemnation. I may be young, but this issue affects my life far more intimately than it affects the lives of straight Christians, and I think it is important for straight people in particular to be open to listening and learning. We won’t all agree in the near future, but if we turn down the volume and respect and value one another’s faith, the church will be able to offer a more Christ-like witness because of it.’
See more here.
What strikes me as perhaps the most interesting component in these discussions is this – it seems to me that in conversations regarding homosexuality the issue is not biblical authority; rather, the issue is biblical interpretation. As Pastor Adam Hamilton has insightfully repeatedly pointed out in the past, ‘The issue is not authority, it is our assumptions about the Bible and the way we interpret it.’ Matthew’s book presents one plausible interpretation of passages at the forefront of the conversations in our culture surrounding faith and sexuality. It is not necessarily the right one, and certainly not the only one – but it’s one which ought to be studied, considered and engaged with – regardless of one’ s theological conviction regarding homosexuality.
That said – in reading God and the Gay Christian - as well as this blog post – it is my hope that LGBT individuals would not be made into an abstraction or theological ‘issue’ to those who don’t identify as part of that community. Examination of scripture on the topic of the intersection of faith and sexuality must be combined with long term relationships with those that are part of the LGBT community. Failure to engage in these intimate friendships develops a faceless theology – one which is inherently flawed and incomplete in its detachment from the reality that the gays and lesbians whose relationships are being debated are real people. Espousing beliefs about such relationships can be destructive, even in the midst of the best of intentions, apart from the responsibility and accountability of faces, names and friends.
May each of us move toward the Other, no matter who that may be, and learn to engage with those with whom we find disagreement in ways that better reflect how we would like to be treated by them.