Evangelicals Discerning an Issue

marriage-equality

In my last post about “Boundaries” I mentioned that our church plant had once discerned the issue in question – the issue Rob Bell made a clear pronouncement on last weekthe issue of gay rights/gay marriage. And we discerned it from a self-consciously evangelical perspective. I want to share what we came out with, in the hopes that it may be of help to you in your context.

Note that this post is also an attempt at demonstrating the real point of my last post: that local, contextual, accountable communities are the place where issues like this should be discerned (because it’s the only place that they have real, embodied meaning), but there are times when non-local explanations of boundaries are necessary for productive conversation. Boundaries in this sense are not social as much as linguistic – how do we have an honest conversation unless we define things (which Rob was asked to do at Grace Chapel)? There simply are times when we must define things for folks outside our communities or even larger networks of accountability (e.g., on a blog, in a book, or at a conference).

The risk, of course, is that a non-local pronouncement like this might be met with nothing more than a “cool story, bro” from most people. But there’s a possibility that it may prove helpful as another local community or movement undertakes discerning the issue. And make no mistake – all of us have to discern this one, if today’s Supreme Court proceedings are any indication.

And in the very least, perhaps this will simply be an honest way to move the conversation forward.

Our church plant, Dwell Missional Church, has since closed, but early on in the process of planting we were prompted to discern questions being asked by our congregation and our gay neighbors. We were also newly networked with the New England district of the Evangelical Free Church, a conservative denomination. And our local context was a very progressive city, one that many consider to be the least religious city in the least religious state in the US: Burlington, VT.

For those that don’t know (and there are probably lots of you), Burlington is the largest city in the state of Vermont. With about 150,000 people in the Greater Burlington region and around15,000 college students in Burlington proper (the home of UVM), the city is vibrant, young, creative, and, as mentioned, progressive. Which is why I and lots of others absolutely love it.

That’s right – I love it because it’s progressive, not despite the fact that it’s progressive.

The independent, progressive spirit of Vermont in general and Burlington in particular is the driving force behind a culture that revolves around generosity, entrepreneurship, creativity, sustainability, and equality. It’s one of the safest places in the country to live, and one of the best places to raise kids, not least because of the numerous social programs that ensure every child gets wonderful healthcare and education. And, this progressive spirit is also the reason Vermont was the first state to approve full gay marriage (not just civil unions) through the legislative process (rather than the courts) in 2009. This happened, interestingly, during the first year of our church plant.

Over the last few years, I’ve seen many evangelical church plant prospectuses that emphasize this gay marriage piece in particular as the reason Vermont is so “lost.” It is cited as the ultimate sign of apostasy from orthodox evangelical faith, and it becomes the big rallying cry for both Southern missionary church planters to come here and for Southern churches to fund these missionary planters. Whenever I see or here another blog post or tweet with this statistic, my stomach turns. I think of my friends who are gay, now being used as funding tools by the fundies.

So I want to make it clear that I’m not exaggerating or trying to be cool when I say “gay friends,” nor when I mention questions they began asking us about our church plant. Dwell was a uniquely indigenous plant (as lead pastor, I’d already lived in VT for 20 years), and our friends really were intrigued by what we were doing and wanted clarity. Because gay marriage is a forgone conclusion here, the primary question we got was simply and practically, “Could my partner and I get married in your church?” There wasn’t any getting around it – it was a yes or no question. This is where discernment began.

Because of our denominational tie and our evangelical identity, the answer to this question formed our baseline: No, as an evangelical church with a traditional understanding of New Testament marriage, we could not perform gay marriages. As much of a turnoff as that might have been, though, we saw something interesting begin to happen as we discerned beyond that baseline. Namely, our leadership and key church members strongly sensed the need to stand with our gay friends in their desire for equal marriage rights under the law, as a way of truly and properly loving them, supporting them, and seeking justice for them.

At first this felt contradictory, but soon we realized it wasn’t – for to align ourselves with government (really, empire) in coercively denying equal rights to a huge community of our neighbors and friends (who, by the way, are here and are not going away) was about the most unchristian thing we could imagine. So, we began to ask – what is this about, really? Is this about our understanding of sacramental marriage taking place in a church community, or is this about visitation rights and equal housing and protecting children and fairly handling assets and just plain honoring permanent, committed, monogamous relationships? Legal marriage is the latter, and we could not love without desiring this for our gay friends.

During the last two years of our church plant, we decided to be even more consistent in making the marriages we perform purely a sacred ceremony. We stopped signing marriage licenses (and encouraged couples to simply obtain one from a JP). We decided that we should not act as an agent of the state, because legal marriage and sacramental marriage are two different things. And we were simply performing the latter, based on our best understanding of the New Testament.

I’ll never forget a Facebook message I got from a gay friend during this time. She talked about how she and her partner had been married in 2009, but went through a divorce after a year or so. She began dating someone else and was married again soon after. She suddenly found herself fulfilled and happy in this new marriage – really, for the first time in her life – and it had her thinking about the past and about the future and about wanting to raise children with faith in God. She had grown up Mormon, you see, and she had been emotionally abused and alienated by her parents and her church when she finally came out.

She asked me, “Could I be a part of your church? For some reason, I trust you.”

I honestly explained our baseline about marriage. But I went further in expressing our love for her. Our acceptance of her. That all of us at Dwell would welcome she and her partner as full participants in our community just as they are. No demand for conformity. No expectation of “lifestyle” change.

And, I expressed that we would stand with both of them, and all of our gay neighbors, in their right to marriage equality under the law.

She replied, “Thank you, and thank you so much for being honest.”

Throughout the five years of our church plant, several of our gay friends found a faith community to call home. They felt safe and welcomed. And, they understood our evangelical identity. They saw the language-boundary, and they understood. They had grace for us, too.

I’m not saying that the way we did it at Dwell is the ideal way. I don’t know that it is. I do, however, feel strongly that Christians aligning themselves with anti-gay-marriage politics and legislation is contrary to the gospel and love for our neighbors. It is coercive empire stuff, not kingdom of peace stuff. I could be wrong, but that’s how I see it.

And I also know that being evangelical means something and not other things or else it becomes nothing. Is gay marriage the lynchpin upon which evangelical identity turns? No, lest I sing the same tune as the Southern Baptist fundraising letters. But it’s a boundary that has been there that must be wrestled with honestly.

And, I would hope, missionally, locally, and in real relationships with real people.

So, during this Holy Week, the Week that Jesus stormed the empire-corrupted Temple and suffered at the hands of the evil empire itself, all to open up a way of rescue into the kingdom of God that is justice, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit – what do you think about this “issue”? And the way we discerned it here in Burlington?

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About Zach Hoag

Zach J. Hoag is a writer and missional minister from notoriously non-religious New England. His book, Nothing but the Blood: The Gospel According to Dexter was released in 2012. Twitter & Facebook.

  • http://abnormalanabaptist.wordpress.com/ tristaanogre

    Bingo, nailed it… my wife and I last night were just talking about this…took her, actually, a bit to understand the concept of performing sacramental marriage as a church and not “legal” marriage.  Thank you for this example… I think this is more than just a “cool story”… I think this is a pioneering example of a way forward where we can set the boundaries between what is “legal” according to the state and what is “sacramental” to the life of the church.

    • http://zhoag.com/ zachhoag

      tristaanogre Thanks man, I appreciate that. And I agree, it’s tough to wrap your brain around at first, but seems to make so much sense once you do.

  • 1graber

    Zach,
    I mostly agree with you; when I’ve talked to my Christian friends about this issue (the few that will actually engage)  they sometimes will say that we should endorse civil unions (for the equal rights part) and keep marriage for heterosexual unions.  What am I missing?  Isn’t it the same thing basically?

    • http://zhoag.com/ zachhoag

      1graber My sense is that if there is a distinction between “marriage” and “civil unions” legally, there are most likely some rights or benefits that are afforded to marriage and not unions. That’s the way it was in VT. So, it’s semantics – if the government is attached to marriage terminology, that’s fine by me – we just need to be clear in defining it as legal marriage, not sacred or sacramental marriage.

      • 1graber

        zachhoag do you have a helpful source showing the difference?

        • http://zhoag.com/ zachhoag

          1graber zachhoag this looks promising: http://www.now.org/issues/marriage/marriage_unions.html

        • 1graber

          zachhoag thx! The first google link was very helpful. Seems there’s a big difference…

        • http://pushingthroughthedirt.blogspot.ca/ heliotrope

          1graber zachhoag 
          There is.  I appreciate your follow up on this, which directly relates to your question about how to make a positive change… by sharing this info with your Christian friends. :)

        • 1graber

          heliotrope 1graber zachhoag most of my Christian friends aren’t interested in hearing about this. Funny you should say that tho, I’m headed to a conservative bible conference right now at which I’m scheduled to talk to one friend of mine about lgbt issues as they relate to Christianity. Most of my friends are side X.

  • KK

    I appreciate where you are going with this and agree with distinguishing between the sacramental and secular, but still can’t help but think endorsing same-sex marriage is compromising God’s holy but loving will. I have many gay friends and family who understand my theology, yet they also know I love them very much. One told me last year that if he lived closer to me that he would love for me to be his pastor. Love is essential, compromise isn’t.

    • http://zhoag.com/ zachhoag

      @KK I don’t see how stepping out of the political fighting octagon and refusing to withhold rights from neighbors who may disagree with us is compromise.

  • tg24

    Great post Zach – thanks for sharing. 
    I feel this has been often said and rarely practiced – at least in evangelical settings.  Your experience is helpful.
    Hey let me know if you are ever down in Boston, I’ll do likewise about VT.

    • http://zhoag.com/ zachhoag

      tg24 thanks, will do bro.

  • runninghar

    I can’t help but think that if we as a society weren’t so heavily reliant on the government to be involved in our lives, this would be a non-issue. Quite frankly, I don’t believe the government should have any involvement with marriage at all. To me marriage, is inherently religious and I really don’t understand why marriage and government have to be mutually-exclusive. Heck, I don’t know why we need marriage certificates in the first place! While I believe that religion can certainly influence government, it still should remain separate. Couples, straight or gay, should be more than welcome to seek out whatever local church, temple, synagoge, shrine, or mosque they want to get married. Those religious entities would then be able to decide whether or not they want to marry the couple. Should they decide no, the couple just has to seek out some other congregation that will say yes, if they really want a marriage. Where does that leave government? I’d certainly invite them to recognize marriage as ONE way to make legal distinctions (kind of like how you can use multiple forms of identification, passport, birth certificate, etc. to get a driver’s license), but the government itself shouldn’t be creating marriages. If it wants to create some legal union for people (straight or gay) who aren’t going the religious route, it can. Just don’t call it a marriage. Go to a church to get married, go to a courthouse to establish your legal union.
    Will all that being said, I absolutely believe that all people in the United States, married or single, straight or gay, etc. should be able to gain whatever legal rights a legal union (currently being called a marriage) would provide. I love your decision to not act as an agent of the state to sign marriage certificates, because i do think that’s part of the solution for churches.

    • http://zhoag.com/ zachhoag

      runninghar Thanks for these thoughts. The only hole I see in your argument is the case in which atheists or nonreligious folks still value the moral institution of marriage. So if the society as a whole wants to have a legal status called marriage, that’s fine, IMO. But Christians should distinguish that from sacramental marriage.

  • http://pushingthroughthedirt.blogspot.ca/ heliotrope

    As a Christian lesbian, I find this at least thought provoking.  I appreciate your willingness to stand in the gap without letting go of your conviction.  At the same time, I cannot help but feel a bit patronized at the fact that overall, “change” is still the desire.  I’m always a little confused as to what “welcome to participate” means, not just in this church setting, as I’ve heard it among several other communities. Does this mean playing or singing with the worship teams, sharing spiritual gifts, or merely sitting in pews and asking for prayer requests? I suppose it’s different for different churches, but I stil can’t help but wonder what “church” “participation” means, since we are considering linguistics.  
    I definitely agree, and find you to be very progressive as an evangelical to separate theology and politics.  I commend you for that.  However, even if I agreed that my sexuality didn’t align with God’s desire, does this mean that the rest of me is, for lack of a better term, on hold until that “changes”?

    • 1graber

      hi heliotrope, thanks for engaging. I’m just another Christian trying to figure this all out. How do you think Christians who deeply disagree on this issue should act towards each other in church? Long term I mean, not just now, what does a more positive future look like?

    • http://abnormalanabaptist.wordpress.com/ tristaanogre

      @heliotrope 
      I would just say that no, just because one thing is “broken” doesn’t mean other things are on hold…  if I have a problem with lying, does that mean my out of control anger needs to wait?  It just doesn’t work that way…  

      So… Welcome!

    • http://zhoag.com/ zachhoag

      @heliotrope Thanks for your insight, and sorry you felt a bit patronized. I think the tension that the church at large is experiencing right now (and you hit the nail on the head) is whether a church/denomination with a traditional view of sexuality can adequately welcome gay people. Can folks feel safe if they are convinced of their sexual identity and know that a church doesn’t affirm it? 

      Part of this, I think, also has to do with the evangelical track record on this issue. I currently worship with a United Methodist congregation that has similar denominational restrictions to the ones listed above, but there is a reputation of openness that makes folks feel more welcome I think. We had that at Dwell too, and participation happened freely. But I agree that churches are struggling to work this out.
      As for your last question, what I am proposing is a model where acceptance is unconditional, even if there is disagreement doctrinally/philosophically.

      • 1graber

        zachhoag Zach, that model you propose is one option.  The other is what my reformed conservative friends would prefer wherein all sin could lead to rebuke or correction and everyone is constantly urged to get rid of their sin.  Both seem a little extreme to me.  Is there any compromise in the middle?  I can’t figure this out, and obviously a lot of ppl are stumped too.

        • http://zhoag.com/ zachhoag

          1graber zachhoag what do you have in mind when you say ‘middle’?

        • 1graber

          zachhoag well there seems to be at least some NT emphasis on repenting from sin throughout ones life. I guess I’m asking do we see this as an individual focus, or a corporate one? Or mix? That seems to be a major issue going forward.

        • http://pushingthroughthedirt.blogspot.ca/ heliotrope

          1graber zachhoag
          First: We are all broken. We are all under grace. Everyday. Repenting everyday may keep us humble, but Christ died once for all.
          Personally, I believe that Christians need to be encouraged to do their Biblical homework, but by including reading sources they might not initially gravitate towards.  For starters, leaders to do their homework as well, finding that sexual orientation is not a choice.  It is mind boggling to consider anyone would choose this… Really??  Only people who have lived in very small worlds would actually believe that. 
          So if it’s not a choice, what of the behavior then, right? So basically, all gay people should be expected to be single for the rest of their lives to be in alignment with God’s desire.  Otherwise, I suppose that’s where grace comes in.  Or, is that compromise?  
          If I have a “problem” with my “brokenness”, than I should seek God for “healing”, right?  What do you think every homosexual who has been raised in the church has done for the majority of their life??  In the end, they tend to take the either/or approach–  deny God, or deny a part of their identity that isn’t going away anytime soon.  But trying to deny your sexuality, unless you are called to be celibate, is like trying to deny your personality.  You can hide it, try as you might to even change it, it will always be there ready to pop out like a ball under water.  And so, for the rest of your life, you are continually repenting and feeling guilty for this failure, this sin in your life that just won’t go away.  It is no wonder why homosexuals, in general, hate religion.  
          This is a really good article to read for Christians to consider, at least, even if they don’t agree with it all… (I’m not sure how I follow all of the interpretations, especially God “blessing” those having multiple wives, but I just don’t have the time or resources to follow it up).
          http://www.thegodarticle.com/7/post/2011/10/clobbering-biblical-gay-bashing.html

        • 1graber

          heliotrope I read most of it, I have heard those sides before, not often though. Do you agree with those interpretations?

        • http://pushingthroughthedirt.blogspot.ca/ heliotrope

          1graber
          @1graber
          I know it’s a lot.  I absolutely agree with the interpretations concerning hospitality, not sure about all the rest.  However, over all, I completely agree with his point that in general, Christianity (and the Jews) have a long history of misinterpretation, likewise, I think it is hubris to believe we have mastered it today (considering we are that much further from the original language, and therefore intent).

  • Joshkap

    Zach. Good work on this, but what about leadership roles like kids teacher or small group leader. Was that a point of stress? Josh

    • http://zhoag.com/ zachhoag

      Joshkap we never had any philosophical tensions there – I think each case should be worked out relationally, on the ground.

      • http://abnormalanabaptist.wordpress.com/ tristaanogre

        zachhoag Joshkap I’m with Zach on this…  discernment should be up to the faith community to determine what level of involvement should be allowed in certain circumstances.
        Just to be clear, I think this applies to anything, really… can divorcees lead a Sunday School class? Can a glutton lead singing on Sunday morning?  Can a gossip run the church newsletter?  Rather than singling out one sin over others, it’s a matter of communal discernment, extending grace, and restoring people…

  • http://www.dennisredwards.com/ Dennis

    wow! as a former pastor in the EFCA who church planted in “progressive” NYC many, many years ago, I really appreciate where you’re coming from. thanks for being thoughtful, honest, and loving — and even biblical in the process!

    • http://zhoag.com/ zachhoag

      @Dennis good to hear from another EFCer! thanks dennis.

  • http://autumnhgallagher.wix.com/autumngallagher Autumn Gallagher

    Amen, amen, amen!

    • http://zhoag.com/ zachhoag

      Autumn Gallagher thanks autumn!

  • tc_moore

    Loved the post bro! Thank you so much for sharing. 100% agree with you: a) Jesus calls his disciples to stand in solidarity with our marginalized and stigmatized friends, showing them dignity, and advocating for them; b) the “definition of marriage” fight in U.S. politics is Empire business, and the Jesus Movement should have nothing to do with it!
    Building on that second theme, I’d go a step further: According to the laws of the land, there should be no legal distinction, or difference in rights/privileges, between heterosexual couples and homosexual couples. Instead, the only just way to give all citizens equal protection under the law, is to strip all “marriage” language from the laws and leave those “definitions” up to communities of faith (all communities of faith, not just Christian ones).
    The Jesus Movement is in an entirely different Kingdom from this present Empire. We have an entirely different directive, and that is to witness to the unconditional, self-sacrificial love of God demonstrated in Christ—particularly in his Cross. Therefore, I don’t there to be any confusion nor co-opting by the Empire. In the eyes of the State my marriage should just be a “union”, with no religious identifiers. All religious identifiers should come from a person’s faith tradition, or not at all. That, as I see it, is the best way to keep the Empire and the Kingdom distinct.
    Love your blog bro! And I’m so glad we are friends. Keep it up.

    • http://zhoag.com/ zachhoag

      tc_moore yeah man, i generally agree here. the only nuance i’d add is that we do have a culture in which the ethical force of marriage terminology is valued from a legal perspective. doubtless this comes from faith traditions that have influenced American law, but even folks of no faith or anti-faith are beholden to marriage language. so, instead of leading a campaign to strip the word ‘marriage’ from the law books, I think the church simply needs to work out the definition of sacramental marriage vs. legal marriage, as long as the gov’t uses that terminology. i also know that for gay friends, the word is important, and that draws out a degree of empathy from me, etc.
      thanks for the awesome comment my man!

      • tc_moore

        zachhoag tc_moore Good response. I get where you’re coming from. I just don’t think we’d tolerate the State appropriating other religious language in their laws. Imagine if the U.S. passed laws on the “definition” of baptism. That’s not too far of a stretch considering that’s precisely why Anabaptists were killed in Christendom. Our Anabaptist ancestors opposed the unholy union (pun intended) between the Church and State—which was signified by a particular mode of baptism. In our context, I find marriage to be an analogous issue.
        Still, your approach is very Jesus-centered, so I dig it!

  • http://pushingthroughthedirt.blogspot.ca/ heliotrope

    I think your next step is to define sacramental marriage based on your NT understanding. What is it actually that makes it sacred? I understand that as a pastor, the dilemma is that you feel you are involved in asking God to bless a couple to engage in the sin of homosexuality. 
    Since gay couples are mostly unsupported by both church and state, most are therefore living in adultery, as fornicators… in your congregation.  Man, what a great word. Fornication.  As a Christian, gets me right in the stomach every time, especially when my mom uses it.  But when I ask her if it is better that I get married, she just says, “Wow, that’s a tough one.”  I know she would rather I was celibate, as do many, if not most, of you.  In her graciousness, she claims that if she were my age, it would be nearly impossible for her, so how can she expect it of me.  I know she still prays for it though, and that’s ok. 
    However, you said there is no expectation for “lifestyle” change.  Would that be true of any heterosexual couple that was living in adultery, as fornicators?  Or, would it be morally valued somewhat higher if the gay couple was married by the state, at least in the churches eyes? 
    I am not trying to be antagonistic. Truly, I am wondering how an LGB accepting pastor answers this.

    • http://zhoag.com/ zachhoag

      heliotrope So, I am mainly using ‘sacred/sacramental’ to distinguish from ‘legal’, i.e., the rights and privileges afforded to committed couples by the state. In that sense, we saw our church as putting forward a New Testament vision for marriage between a man and a woman as reflective of Christ’s sacrificial love for and commitment to the church. We chose not to emphasize the ‘sinfulness of gay attraction/sex’, per se, but instead to see it as less than the coupling/marriage ideal in Christ. In other words, we chose, in our context, not to lump gay folks in with adulterers, etc. – a committed gay couple is (obviously) different from a destructive spouse cheating on their partner. “Acceptance without expectation of lifestyle change” was, I think, a reality for us. (We would equally accept people in lots of situations, though we were always willing to lovingly address destructive behavior, etc.)

      • http://pushingthroughthedirt.blogspot.ca/ heliotrope

        zachhoag
        I think I get it… “Husbands love your wives…” would be a difficult phrase to use for same-sex couples. I just wasn’t sure as to what you thought made it sacred–the vow to include God or the people making the vow.  It seems God, male, female.  
        The phrase “… as Christ loves the church, laying himself down…” however, seems to be the principle for sacrificial love, just as “wives submit to your husband”, or in other words, putting the other first. Principles, not being literal, I thought, was Jesus’ MO, but I could be wrong. 
        Glad to hear you don’t lump gay folks as adulterers…. I might even agree with you about “the less than ideal”, however, I was trying to draw the parallel (or distinction) between a committed gay couple and a committed heterosexual couple who are coupling, not cheating, and whether you treated them or saw them the same, say, if they wanted to get involved with children’s ministry.  Would marriage kinda be a thing you’d want to address or would the notion of “acceptance w/o expectation of lifestyle change” apply to both?  Would you encourage both couples to marry or would you only encourage the heterosexual couple to marry before God and encourage the gay couple to get married by the state?  In that case, would you encourage (or, as a pastor, perform) pre-marital counseling for both?  This isn’t only directed at you, but for readers abroad, but whom I assume follow your lead and want to know how you’d answer.  
        I do not think there are quick, easy answers to this for the traditional evangelical, even if they are on a progressive trajectory.  I may only be waxing philosophical about principles and the matter between separation of church and state or the inference of separating the sacred and the legal in this reality, even though I am all for it.  With that said, as you can see, I have a problem of separating the sacred for gays in the Church.

        • http://zhoag.com/ zachhoag

          heliotrope as I mentioned to another commenter, we didn’t have any philosophical boundary re: a gay person (in a committed relationship) leading, but we would doubtless discern it relationally based on heart, competency, etc. As for marriage, we couldn’t perform one. Pre-marriage – great question, never ran into that one! It would probably be something discerned in relationship too (Greg Boyd has a great story of doing pre-marriage with a gay couple in his city).

        • http://pushingthroughthedirt.blogspot.ca/ heliotrope

          zachhoag
          I’d be interested in reading it. 
           I will have you know that I do appreciate having had this dialogue as this is, honestly, the first time I’ve ever processed any of this before from the gay perspective.  I think it has been good resource of for all readers.  I was raised in the church and even hold a theology degree from a conservative university.  But after feeling guilty and hating myself for countless years, to the point of depression and thoughts of suicide, I couldn’t “fight it” any longer.  Now being on the other side of things, I am trying to figure all of this out.
          Thanks for respectfully engaging.

  • Joshkap

    Zach,  I appreciate that you approached this topic with a good degree of creativity and humility.  In that same vein and same topic, I want to bounce an idea off you and my fellow commentators.  Is is possible that modern humans are biologically different than Biblical humans on this issue. Perhaps that sounds like pandering or just plain crazy, but I am lovingly thinking it’s possible and here is why. 
    We know that there are multiple modern factors that effect sex hormones BPA mimics estrogen, Soy can decrease testosterone and in super amounts it supposedly can even cause men to lactate (google it).  On a similar note, we also see exponential increases in modern Auto-immmune (body attacking itself) diseases and perhaps physiologically correlated to that, that rates of homosexuality are increased with the 3rd child to inherit the womb. 
    I’m not a scientist I just read the news paper.  So is it possible that the condemnations in the Bible are against actions that really would have been committed out of selfish lusts and not at all out of biological bent.  And would that change the churches reaction?  Do we act differently towards the “afflicted” than to the selfish?
    See you at the Missio Conference!

    • http://pushingthroughthedirt.blogspot.ca/ heliotrope

      Joshkap
      Thank you for your valid inclusion of biology to the topic
      at hand.  Obviously, the church will
      react differently to selfish lust if homosexuality is biologically related, but
      also consider how they will react to the idea of it as being an “affliction”.  
      Some of my gay brothers and sisters would slap me for
      including psychological issues because they see being gay is like having blue
      eyes—where the “affliction” isn’t a biological or psychological problem, but rather how they are
      treated for being different, i.e. discriminated against.  However, we can go beyond Google and websites and read
      scientific journals and academic articles that attest to studies that support
      your biological suggestion (aside from finding a “gay” gene), as well as environmental influences.  
      So, what do you mean by “affliction”? Suffering from discrimination or that it could be biological or psychological problem?  If the latter, do you think it makes a difference for the church whether it is biological or psychological?

      • Joshkap

        heliotropeJoshkap I know this crowd is more thoughtful than most.  In other places I think the idea would be shot at from both sides.  I acknowledge the issue that you raise, but I think that it might even require more from the traditional Christian types.  To them this idea would seem to undermine whole sets of assumptions, like if these simple definitions can change what else is lost. Battle drums would beat like I’m challenging scriptural inerrancy.  If you know modern evangelicalism, those points are no small matters.  To conservatives, I’m bordering on heresy here.
        I acknowledge all of that but I really think it’s an idea that intentions the best for both camps.  For the LGBT community it comes very close to affirming a Gay gene, especially considering that we know that genes can be turned on and off by environmental factors.  And I know affliction sounds like a bad word, but I wouldn’t look at it any different than my sons congenital heart condition.  (But I acknowledge even there, we don’t celebrate heart conditions, and this idea might have consequences for how we view gay festivals, etc.)
        For the Bible lovers, this idea affirms that the old condemnations could have been justified.  I mean if the modern trends for stable gay partnership were fairly knew (I know that’s questionable) then it gives them an out.  Perhaps in those cases, male homosexuality wasn’t a genetic predisposition, but rather a lustful convenience:  circumventing any value toward women and denying grandchildren to grandparents and even sacrificing their retirement future for the sake of non-pregnancy inducing lusts.
        That example takes on more weight when you consider the constant biblical thrust towards supernatural-unity: between men and women, former pharisees and former pagans, divinity and humanity.  That is a theme I want to consider in today’s world, even unity among gays and Christians.
        Here’s my last point.  I think it’s exciting.  If we could label this as an “affliction” then I could quickly draw comparisons to Jesus and the Leper.  Forget that leprosy is awful and they probably stunk, I don’t mean that.  It was a condition that the afflicted person had no control over, but people back then didn’t seem to know that and the lepers were totally shunned.  Especially in the Jewish culture where the law emphasized purity and cleanliness.  But then you see Jesus ignoring that, he lets the leper approach, he listens to the leper, he feels sympathy for the leper and then he touches him!  Crazy!  If this is true, and the church is shunning people because of an affliction (like leprosy) then I think that’s terrible. If Jesus gets to emphasize mission and compassion over law, then I hope I can too.

        • http://pushingthroughthedirt.blogspot.ca/ heliotrope

          Joshkap
          I am willing to say that I believe 100% that there are many variables that contribute to the make-up of each of us, including psychology as part of the nature/nurture mix (biology/environment).  
          This is what Christians NEED to understand: simply because someone has an “affliction” does not mean that it is going way anytime soon, but more likely never in their lifetime.  This whole notion of “healing” is even debated in the Church, which confounds this whole situation in the first place.  Even I believe in the gift of healing and that God does heal today.  But that doesn’t mean I believe he always will. Now, this leads to the notion of “enough faith”, another confounding issue.  But this is where I love the idea of grace and where I see you going with empathy for the afflicted.  I see Jesus reaching out and healing here and wonder why not me and SO many others in their afflictions… it obviously doesn’t happen that way. So, when it doesn’t, I agree that the Church’s grace relies on the concept of the affliction.  Like  you, my hope is that the Church can see that “choice” does not apply for some. Also, sometimes the healing process takes such a long time that there may not be enough years in their lifetime… Again, this is where grace can and should be shown.   
          Btw, I personally do not “celebrate” being gay, and it bothers me (as well as some other gays) that the multi-colored leotard flaunting in the streets does not represent MOST of us… iyiyi…but just as the media highlights the extremes on all issues… With that said, the gay “pride” parades, I understand them to want a voice for such issues as discrimination and equal rights.  I had two different opportunities to march but didn’t because of the flaunting and “celebration” while I was depressed and hated myself. But now, I think I might march and stand with the afflicted.  That guy in the leotard is broken, just as the rest of us in this fallen world, and needs to be shown love through support as a human being–something I can relate to.  
          Thank you for your thoughtful engagement. 
          Peace out.

    • http://zhoag.com/ zachhoag

      Joshkap this is a needed consideration, and one that we need to keep discerning. See you in DC bro!

  • JessicaLaporte

    thanks Zach. I love it when i hear christian leaders saying what i’ve been feeling for so long. equal rights are a matter fo justice and that doesn’t mean compromising our beliefs.

    • http://zhoag.com/ zachhoag

      JessicaLaporte thanks Jess, agreed :).

  • http://pushingthroughthedirt.blogspot.ca/ heliotrope

    I just finished reading Rob Bell’s
    latest, “What We Talk About When We Talk About God”.  He
    referenced God’s instructions about war in Deuteronomy and making a woman you
    are attracted to your wife.  It seems barbaric on the surface, but making her a
    wife gives her an opportunity to respect her and take care of her differently
    than property as a slave.  His point is that God, Immanuel,  is With Us culturally,
    not just back there in the OT, and instructs us to move past our culture to
    something higher in a process.  I think his reference to the
    “clicks” God is moving his people forward beyond their cultural
    understanding can be applied here.

    • http://zhoag.com/ zachhoag

      heliotrope that makes me want to read the book even more. it’s next on the list!

  • http://halfheartedcreature.tumblr.com/ Causal

    Interesting stuff, Zach.  I am curious, though, about something in your post that at least appears to open the door to criticism.  You say, “as an evangelical church with a traditional understanding of New Testament marriage, we could not perform gay marriages.”  But then you also say, “All of us at Dwell would welcome she and her partner as full participants in our community just as they are. No demand for conformity. No expectation of ‘lifestyle’ change.”  I can easily envision a scenario in which someone might say, “If your understanding of the New Testament prevents you from performing gay marriages, then how can you accept gay practice in members of your church?”  Or, contrariwise, “If you are comfortable with gay members of your church ‘just as they are,’ with no problem with their marriage or their practice of their sexuality, then how can you refrain from performing such marriages?”  How would you answer such an objection?

    • http://zhoag.com/ zachhoag

      Causal I think your expansion on my wording, not my wording itself, is what opens the door to criticism: “with no problem with their marriage or their practice of their sexuality…” Acceptance without expectation of change does not directly imply that there is ‘no problem’ – i.e., no dissonance – with the sexual practice. It simply says that there is A) a desire for civil equality and justice for our neighbors under law, and B) a Spirit-led, gospel-guided grace welcoming all who desire to come to the table of worship and community. Our sacramental practice of the ideals to which we believe we are called, like New Testament marriage, does not in itself exclude those who are not following those ideals. There always needs to be discernment as those ideals are concerned, but not necessarily exclusion (I would say exclusion only in the case of destructive/harmful/unsafe behavior).

      • http://halfheartedcreature.tumblr.com/ Causal

        I think that where I’m stumbling is that it appears prima facie inconsistent (but maybe only appears that way) that people who are welcomed as full participants in the community who can nevertheless not be married in the context of that community.  I’m betting, though, that there’s something I’m missing.  Can you help me see what it is?

        • http://zhoag.com/ zachhoag

          Causal I appreciate what you’re getting at. I just don’t see the inconsistency, so I’m finding it hard to defend! All kinds of people from all kinds of backgrounds can be full participants in a church right? There will obviously be discernment in each individual case as to the particular roles that are played, and in regard to discipleship and spiritual development, etc., but there shouldn’t be categorical exclusion, yes?

        • http://halfheartedcreature.tumblr.com/ Causal

          zachhoag I think what the fundamentalists are going to say is, “Look, if you have practicing homosexuals in your church, why not just go ahead and marry them, too?”  (Also, wow: a civil conversation about the church, gay marriage, gay practice, gay Christianity, biblical marriage, etc.  You’re to be commended for making a space for it!)

        • http://zhoag.com/ zachhoag

          Causal yeah, I think you’re right that fundamentalist folks would say that. of course, i’m trying to get ‘the nuance’ over here, which fundies are not too fond of :). thanks for the encouragement, as well.

        • http://halfheartedcreature.tumblr.com/ Causal

          zachhoag How would you answer them on that?  It seems to me that it’s all to easy to swing from one form of unloving intolerance to another (for me, anyway).  How does one lovingly but firmly answer their objection?  How would you?

        • http://zhoag.com/ zachhoag

          Causal I think I’d just say that it’s possible to demonstrate total acceptance and belief in legal equality while maintaining sacramental and ethical distinctives. Unity in diversity, living at peace with our neighbor, loving the ‘other’, that sort of thing.

  • lenhjalmarson

    Equal rights w/o compromise of convictions — brilliant really and allows the kind of inclusion we are seeking. Brilliant and hopeful, I was grateful for your story!

    • http://zhoag.com/ zachhoag

      lenhjalmarson Len, thanks so much!

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  • EmmyRoseWilson

    Thank you for sharing the thought process behind dealing with this issue in the church and not ignoring it!!!

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