Welcome with open arms fellow believers who don’t see things the way you do. And don’t jump all over them every time they do or say something you don’t agree with—even when it seems that they are strong on opinions but weak in the faith department. Remember, they have their own history to deal with. Treat them gently. –Romans 14:1 (The Message)
Jesus said, “I am the Road, also the Truth, also the Life. No one gets to the Father apart from me. If you really knew me, you would know my Father as well. From now on, you do know him. You’ve even seen him!” –John 14:6-7 (The Message)
This mystery is great; but I am speaking with reference to Christ and the church. –Ephesians 5:32 (NASB)
I promise I will get to some more on anger; but current events keep happening…
A couple of weeks ago, the Supreme Court of the United States gave a landmark ruling on marriage equality. So much division, among the justices of the court as well as across our nation. I don’t know how we can get beyond the diatribe and vitriolic soap boxes both sides are lobbing; but we must try.
I’ve addressed my own feelings about marriage equality and LGBT relationships here and here; but for this post I’d like to process through some of the arguments that trouble me the most when I hear my brothers and sisters use them in a holier-than-thou tone, and the implications of the statements:
- I believe the Bible and what it clearly says: The implied statement is that only those who agree with my interpretation know what the Bible actually says. This statement breaks my heart because I’ve studied and taught the Bible most of my life. Not just my adult life; but since I could sit up. I know it’s scary to change long-held beliefs of what we’ve been taught the Bible says. I’ve had to trudge through those murky waters too. I’ve had to look at passages and stories from other facets (as the Hebrew writers of the Bible intended), and ask hard questions about cultural and historical perspectives. And then, come to my own understanding of how to live out the life of Christ with integrity–because ultimately, Christ is truth. Not the Bible. The Bible can show us Christ; but the Pharisees knew the scriptures, and didn’t really understand how to live them out. I’ve found there are many credible Bible scholars with differing interpretations. All of us need to find the one that we can in good conscience follow. Even if that means we don’t agree. And then we must respect each others’ views. Holding that tension of differing interpretations leads to unity. True unity in the Spirit.
- I believe in the biblical view of marriage: The implication with this line of thought is that ‘biblical marriage’ is what our culture defines as ‘normal.’ But in reading the Bible, biblical marriage can be anything from polygamy to concubines to women-as-property. Solomon speaks of lusty love; but remember he also had about 1000 wives and concubines. The Christian New Testament has a few references to marriage; but in that day, women were property–it wasn’t what we think of as marriage in our country today. And most of the references to marriage aren’t about human marriage–but analogies of our collective relationship with God. Working with Bible translators in different cultures and tribes on different continents has made me question what our role is in proclaiming the gospel. Do we try to ‘convert’ people to our way of life, or to Christ’s life? What do we do with polygamous tribes? Do we try to make them change to our views of living, or do we allow the Spirit to decide when and how their cultural beliefs change? Would we say to a man with 12 wives, “You have to pick one,” and then leave the other 11 to live unprotected and stigmatized outside the community? What about in our own country? Would we actually say to children with 2 mommies or daddies that it’s better for their family to be torn apart and for them to experience the trauma of divorce because God hates the love in that family? Christ, have mercy!, if that’s our stance. If marriage is representative of how Christ and the Church treat each other, then I’m not sure that gender matters. I’ve known heterosexual, Christian couples who don’t treat each other very Christlike. Are we saying that those marriages are better representations of Christ and the Church than a same-sex relationship that honors and respects each other? I’m not saying that all Christians have to support marriage equality; but, people, let’s have a little compassion!
- The Bible doesn’t condone same-sex relationships: The implication being that anything the Bible doesn’t condone is sinful? The Bible ‘clearly’ doesn’t condone birth control of any kind, modern technology, medical research of any kind, most of the lifestyle choices we make in the way of ‘success’ and ‘prosperity’, interracial marriage. The list goes on and on and on. We do ourselves a disservice when we try to conform our beliefs to the Bible, instead of allowing the Spirit of God to transform our hearts through informing us what the Bible says about God’s intentions toward all people.
- Same-sex relationships aren’t natural: The implication here is that whatever comes naturally is okay? Because to a person with same-sex attractions, opposite-sex attractions are ‘unnatural.’ Also, scientists have found at least one entire species that is 100% bisexual, and at least 1500 species with a percentage of same-sex attractions–it will be more; but they’ve only studied 1500 species. Those statistic references are in my aforementioned blog posts. Often, this argument is followed by, “If we support same-sex marriage, then accepting bestiality and pedophilia will follow.” It’s discouraging to hear so many arguments that are borne from fear. I had a conversation with a friend who asked, “So is everything ‘gray’?” I could hear the fear of instability in her voice as she wrestled with how to view life if we don’t see controversies as black and white.
- Acceptance of marriage equality dooms America: I feel the weight of this statement crush so many each time I hear it. Can you imagine if you were told over and over and over again that your existence, your very being, can bring down a nation? Did we hear that same phrase each time a pastor or priest has abused his position? Has anyone ever heard those words and said, “Tell me more about this Jesus you say you follow”? Seriously, if that is our ‘good news’, I want nothing of it. Callously and arrogantly fixing this weighty yoke on anyone reveals our own fear. The Jesus I know never told us to live out of fear. He showed us how to treat people–even when they didn’t match the religious norm or who God chooses.
Again, I am not suggesting that anyone who is against marriage equality is uninformed or unenlightened. On the contrary, I know many who read the same Bible verses I do and interpret them differently. I’m not even suggesting they are wrong. I’m saying it’s not about winning a debate or proving a side right. The Supreme Court ruling shouldn’t change much about our lives. Jesus wasn’t frustrated by governmental or religious laws. He lived his life in full submission to God. How would he respond to this modern-day ruling? He would continue to heal, teach, show compassion, eat with sinners, chat with societal undesirables and desirables alike, cry out against injustice, weep, laugh, pray. Regardless of what we believe about subjects and theories, we can agree to follow Christ’s example. But we have to stop the bumper-sticker arguments that just aren’t helpful to anyone.
So how do we live out the life of Christ with integrity if we don’t agree on biblical interpretations? Romans 14 is a great place to start. Practicing with trusted people with differing points of view …
Of course, that implies that we actually have people in our lives with differing points of view….
Reading other perspectives with an open mind–not with a goal to change your mind or solidify your beliefs; but with a goal of understanding the complexities of the topic, of learning to hold in tension the various perspectives which leads to true unity of faith. Faith that God is the same yesterday, today and forever; but we are constantly growing out of our own boxes of understanding. God gives us the grace to grow into a broader understanding of Christ’s life as our knowledge of the universe, human body, human psyche, scientific discoveries expands.
How exciting to be privy to revelations about scripture and God’s nature! How exciting to learn to live with one another in unity without having to force conformity of thought! How exciting to travel this road with others with different images of God than we have known! How exciting to travel on the road of grace!
I welcome comments! Please keep them respectful and constructive.