Post-evangelical social media got fired up yesterday after the release of an anti-queer statement from the Council of Biblical Manhood and Womanhood. I hadn’t wanted to engage this statement because I’m tired of the way that online Christian conversation always takes the form of fundamentalist provocation and progressive reaction. But then I came across the beautiful Christians United Statement on LGBT Inclusion signed by some solid young progressive Christian leaders like Alicia Crosby, Jarell Wilson, Elliel Cruz, Naomi Washington-Leapheart, Mike McHargue, and Brandan Robertson, so I decided to co-sign with them. It’s not perfect. It could be more explicitly intersectional. But I think it’s solid, holistic, orthodox theology. So instead of ranting about the ten articles of an ugly theological statement, I thought I would ponder the ten articles of a beautiful one.
WE AFFIRM that every human being is created in the image and likeness of God and that the great diversity expressed in humanity through our wide spectrum of unique sexualities and gender identities is a perfect reflection of the magnitude of God’s creative work.
WE DENY any teaching that suggests God’s creative intent is limited to a gender binary or that God’s desire for human romantic relationships is only to be expressed in heterosexual relationships between one man and one woman.
I was explaining to one of my students the other day that having an inclusive theological vision for human community is completely different than the secular liberal value of “tolerating difference.” If we believe that humanity is created in the image of God, then denying the humanity of those who fall outside of binary norms means that we are artificially creating large gaps in God’s image. It’s like having a picture in which only primary colors are allowed, like one of the earliest Apple computer screens in the eighties. God’s image within humanity is incomplete without every color in the rainbow of humanity. It’s not simply that queer people need to be tolerated in the church. The church needs openly queer people to help us interpret scripture and listen to what God is teaching us, because there are hues of color within God’s teaching that only a queer eye is going to pick up.
WE AFFIRM that God designed marriage to be a covenantal bond between human beings who have committed to love, serve, and live a life faithfully committed to one another over the course of a lifetime.
WE DENY that God intended human romantic relationships to be limited to one man and one woman and declare that any attempts to limit the sacred or civil rights of humans to covenant and commit to love and serve one another is an affront to God’s created design.
We need to be honest about the fact that the Bible does not speak in one voice about marriage. For example, the depiction of marriage in Ephesians 5 as a reflection of Christ’s love for the church is very different from Paul’s description of marriage as a “concession” offered “because of cases of sexual immorality” in 1 Corinthians 7. The message in Ephesians 5 is that men should love their wife’s bodies as much as they love their own rather than treating them as cattle to produce their heirs. In 1 Corinthians 7, Paul is mostly advocating celibacy instead of marriage, but he offers a fundamentally pragmatic rationale for his sexual ethics. He says that he is concerned with three things: freedom from anxiety (v. 32), good social order (v. 35), and unhindered devotion to the Lord (v. 35). I think that those three concerns should define how we talk about sexuality and relationships, rather than appealing to the church’s overwhelmingly patriarchal, imperialistic historical tradition, which has been abusive to marginalized people of all kinds.
WE AFFIRM that relationships between fallen humans have suffered great distortions resulting in various forms of infidelity and unhealthy behaviors that contribute to the suffering of humanity. We also affirm that God’s desire is for all humans to enter into loving, sacrificial relationships with one another, whether romantic, platonic, or social, regardless of gender or sexual identity.
WE DENY that the fallenness of human relationships resulted in the multiplicity of sexual orientations and gender identities but rather the capacity for humans to function out of hedonistic self-interest instead of the sacrificial, self-giving love in whose image we are created.
One of the most despicable abuses of the doctrine of original sin in the modern sexuality debate is to say that queer people only exist because of Adam and Eve’s sin in order to avoid conceding that God can actually create people queer. To say that queerness can be part of God’s creation that he declares good in Genesis 1 is not to depart from the doctrine of original sin. Every human being’s story begins in Genesis 1 and goes through Genesis 3 on its way hopefully to Romans 8. We are all fallen because we are born into a sinful world, but our biology itself is not corrupted by sin. If that were so, then bacteria and fungi would not have existed until Eve bit into the apple. Decay and growth are completely interwoven in the biological process from the cellular level all the way up. To deny the existence of natural processes prior to “The Fall” is to embrace a radically anti-scientific biblical interpretation. Plus, there is very dubious support in the biblical text for a biologically nihilistic understanding of original sin. It simply doesn’t factor into the biblical narrative outside of Genesis 3 and Romans, which can be interpreted in ways that are not radically anti-scientific.
WE AFFIRM that those who are born as intersex are full and equal bearers of the image and likeness of God and are worthy of full dignity and respect. We affirm and support intersex individuals in their journey of self-realization and embracing their unique, God-created sexual orientation and gender identity, whatever it may be.
WE DENY that intersex individuals are required to conform to a gender binary or a heteronormative sexual paradigm.
The existence of intersex people is kind of a checkmate for the Council of Biblical Manhood and Womanhood because their anatomy is neither male nor female. Some again resort to saying that intersex anatomy is created by “The Fall” rather than God. I would say that there is an indispensable aspect of the image of God that requires expression in beautiful intersex bodies.
WE AFFIRM that while the male and female gender identity reflects a majority of the human family, God has created individuals whose gender identity does not fall on such a binary spectrum. We also affirm that there are many transgender individuals who are born with a physical body that is incongruent with their true gender identity, and these individuals should be supported and trusted in regards to their own self-knowledge of who they are and how God has created them.
WE DENY that forcing individuals to embrace a gender identity that matches the cultural assumptions based on their biology is a healthy practice and that the heterosexual, male/female binary is the only consistent reflection of God’s holy purposes in Creation.
The truth of each of our bodies is a mystery. What the fundamentalists want is a simple binary of male and female in which there is no hormonal, biological nuance. That binary is not a truthful reflection of humanity. It is disrespectful to God’s sovereignty over the mystery of creation to insist upon a oversimplified account of a complicated reality. Transgender people are seeking to be honest about the truth they experience within their bodies. When we insist that what they’re saying cannot possibly be true, what we care about is not the truth itself but our own control of and authority over the truth.
WE AFFIRM that LGBT+ Christians are called to live holy and fulfilling lives that are pleasing to God through living in congruence with God’s creative intent for them, and, like all Christians, are called to walk in a rhythm of life that reflects the example of Jesus Christ our Lord.
WE DENY that heterosexuality or binary gender identities are the only legitimate sexuality and gender identities that reflect the natural goodness of God’s creation.
The greatest crime being committed in the modern sexuality debate is the bastardization of the word “holiness” as a code word for chaste heterosexuality. Holiness describes our obedience to God and our emulation of Christ which encompasses way more than our sexual identity. Holiness is the spiritual discipline through which we seek to be “perfect as [our] heavenly Father is perfect,” a perfection most fully manifested in our love for enemies, the zenith of Christian sanctification. In order to increase in our Christlikeness, we must be purged of all sorts of idols, including sexual ones. But by reducing holiness to a code word for a particular ideology of sexuality, fundamentalists are sabotaging their own Christian discipleship.
WE AFFIRM that one may live proudly and openly as an LGBT+ individual and as a faithful follower of Jesus Christ and that LGBT+ individuals must be fully embraced and included in every level of Christian leadership, life, and ministry without exception in order for the Church to fully embrace its call to be the body of Christ. We also affirm Christ’s call for the Church to be one, united in the midst of our diversity of sexual orientations, gender identities, relationships, and beliefs about the same.
WE DENY that teachings on the Biblical interpretation of sexuality and gender identity constitute a matter of orthodoxy and should be a cause for division among Christians.
Christians recognize a diversity of viable biblical interpretations on all sorts of other issues, such as money, war, participation in worldly institutions, etc. Any honest exegesis of the so-called “clobber passages” on homosexuality would recognize that there is a range of interpretive possibility. The fact that this is the one litmus test of white evangelical orthodoxy in our time is indicative of an underlying idolatrous obsession that goes beyond mere fidelity to scripture. My own hypothesis is that the modern white evangelical obsession with defending “traditional family values” is part of a backlash against the civil rights movement through which white supremacy has tried to justify itself using a myth of white purity and black promiscuity.
WE AFFIRM that non-affirming teaching causes significant psychological and spiritual harm to LGBT+ individuals in Christian churches around the world. We likewise affirm that the Church of Jesus Christ is guilty of preaching and teaching a false gospel that has caused hundreds of thousands of individuals to face bullying, abuse, and exclusion from their families and communities, and must publicly repent and seek reconciliation with the LGBT+ community for the harm that has been done to them in the name of Christ.
WE DENY that any Christian that refuses to repent of their false-teaching is living a faithful and obedient life in Christ.
This is not just a curious theological debate taking place in ivory tower seminaries. Thousands of queer youth have been thrown out of their homes onto the streets because of their parents’ indoctrination in anti-queer Christian teachings. Hundreds more have committed suicide after being bullied by their peers and denounced by adult authority figures in their lives. Until Christians recognize and repent of the sins they have committed against queer people, God will continue to hand them over to a “debased mind [which is] filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, covetousness, and malice” (Romans 1:28-29).
WE AFFIRM that sexuality and gender identity may be expressed in a variety of different ways, including celibacy. We also affirm that commitment, consent, respect, and self-sacrificial love must be the center of any life or relationship that is to be deemed holy and upright for a Christian.
WE DENY that any individual, especially minors, should be forced to seek any form of treatment or therapy that promises to change their sexual orientation or gender identity in order to conform to a patriarchal, heteronormative model of relationship.
I’ve just started an online counseling degree, because I’ve met a lot of wounded people whose woundedness expresses itself in harmful, self-destructive behavior and who need help working through their trauma so that they can be healed and liberated. Any form of treatment or therapy that is premised upon a rigidly prescribed behavioral outcome is completely contrary to everything I’m being taught, and I’m in a program designed by John Townsend, a conservative evangelical Christian. When you have a therapeutic framework rooted in grace and truth, the idea of forcing a client into a particular identity is utterly nonsensical. The point is to help people live in a way that allows them to be free from shame and resentment, participate in healthy community, and worship God fully.
WE AFFIRM that Jesus Christ has come into the world to bring salvation to all people and through his life, teachings, death, and resurrection, all are invited into redemption through Christ.
WE DENY that Christ rejects anyone from his loving embrace because of their sexuality or gender identity. We likewise deny that homosexuality, bisexuality, queer sexuality, trans* identity, asexuality, or any other queer identity is sinful, distorted, or outside of God’s created intent.
To say that Christ embraces all without regard to their sexuality or gender identity is not to say that we do not expect to be transformed by our relationship with Christ. It’s simply that I cannot tell a queer person exactly what it looks like for them to build their lives around seeking the kingdom of God first. There are some who determine that living in the kingdom requires celibacy. Others determine that it requires marriage. Others determine that it requires committed, consensual sexual relationships (the Bible never explicitly condemns sex outside of marriage in the original Hebrew or Greek, only adultery). I believe that a monogamous lifelong covenant between two people is the best form of human sexuality, according to my understanding of Paul’s three concerns from 1 Corinthians 7. And I think the best way for people I love and disciple to learn what God wants for them is for me to teach them how to seek and listen to God for themselves rather than give them a list of rules and replace relational discipleship with ideological conformity.
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