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Held in Honor? How?

Held in Honor? How? July 16, 2015

In Wesley Hill’s sensitive exploration of a recent decision by Julie Rodgers comes a fresh alternative to what is so stuck in either-or ruts: honoring those who are unmarried! Wes has a wonderful new book out called Spiritual Friendships. (Here, here and here.)

So, what can churches do that (1) honors those who have been sexually othered and (2) does not embarrass such persons? Suggestions?

It’s this particular conundrum of traditional Christian sexual ethics that my friend Julie Rodgers finds particularly soul-crushing for gay Christians. On Monday, Julie resigned from her role in the chaplain’s office at Wheaton College and, for the first time, expressed her support for people in same-sex partnerships.

“I’ve become increasingly troubled by the unintended consequences of messages that insist all LGBT people commit to lifelong celibacy,” she wrote. When celibacy is viewed as something LGBT people must commit to rather than something they may opt for, then self-hatred is a likely outcome.

As Julie put it, “No matter how graciously it’s framed, that message tends to contribute to feelings of shame and alienation for gay Christians.”

Julie and I both know that Christian churches and communities are often toxic places for LGBT people. Drawing only from my own small circle of gay friends, I could share stories of jobs denied, friendships lost, promotions refused and hospitality qualified — all because of what Julie describes, rightly, as “straight up homophobia.”

And yet I’m not sure that such tragedies are the result of the traditional Christian teaching on marriage and sex in and of itself. According to my reading of the Gospels, Jesus taught us that not only freely chosen sacrifices but also ones that you accept under constraint can be sacrifices that lead to honor, not shame.

In other words, Jesus endorsed certain kinds of “un-free” obedience — but then he turned right around and heaped praise on the very people making such sacrifices, elevating them to a place of distinction and dignity in God’s kingdom.

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