Q & R’s on homosexuality …

Here’s the first question (or request):

i know you’re a very busy man, and i’m just a college student, but i would so appreciate your opinion on this matter. just a quick response–a few sentences even–it would mean a lot. (or perhaps you could direct me to a link or website where you address this issue more directly? i’ve searched and found relevant articles, but your stance was rather elusive, perhaps intentionally.)
i’d like to preface by saying that less than a year ago i had all but given up on christianity and especially on the church. but i read you’re book “a new kind of christian” based on a friends suggestion and felt deeply, deeply moved–my concerns were legitimized and my hopes of what faith could be were affirmed. now, i finally feel like i’m back on track in my faith and my relationship with god, even if it is a bit of a different track.
now, the question i was hoping to ask you. i just finished reading another one of your books “adventures in missing the point” and i can really relate to and agree with most of it. but i felt that the chapter on homosexuality (by tony campolo) was conflicting and confusing. he showed such moving regret about the boy from his high school, he called out the church on their lack of compassion, and finally he went through all the verses in the bible that address homosexuality and picked them apart–explaining how each were not necessarily applicable to a life-long monogamous homosexual relationship.
there was such momentum! but despite all that, he ended the conversation on what i thought was an off-key note–that to contradict two millenia of church tradition was a bit “arrogant” (p. 185). the end. period.
if there was one thing i learned from “a new kind of christian”, it was to question that exact mindset–that we SHOULD re-evaluate religious traditions of the past in a post-modern context. this is where my confusion lies. although you co-wrote the book, and surely edited it together, do you agree with his position?
one of my best friends is gay, and the church has torn him apart–especially the “accepting” ones that love the sinner and hate the sin, because they gave him a false sense of hope for inclusion. luckily, he’s found an affirming church (i think it’s an episcopal one) but still, the damage has been done. if there is even an ounce of uncertainty on an issue that effects people so very deeply (and according to this book, the uncertainty could even be considered substantial) mustn’t we error on the side of generosity? if not, do you think this approach is sustainable in the increasingly accepting generations that follow? after all, nobody nowadays would be caught dead in a church that disapproves of interracial marriage. couldn’t gay marriage be the same 50 years down the road?
i’m so glad that your book argued for the acceptance and inclusion of gay people in church (because many people have not even come that far) but ultimately, the gap between mere acceptance (and promotion of celibacy) and loving affirmation of life-long unions is a wide one. these people don’t want tolerance, they want equality–and freedom from the heterosexism that has dominated the church for the last two millenia. i realize this could take a while for the average churchgoer to accept, but i believe it’s possible, maybe even inevitable. every once in a while i see glimmers of hope.
because of your elusiveness in other online articles, i also wanted to encourage you–that if you are for gay affirmation within the church–to be more vocal about it. because very few other pastors share your open-mind, much less your wide audience. often it’s the people who are oppressed that must stand up for their own rights, but this allows the oppressors to dismiss their actions as selfishly motivated people trying only to improve their own situation (heaven forbid!). but when straight evangelical pastors, or straight college students, who have very little to gain and very much to lose (congregations, friendships, status within the church, etc.) take such a stance, i think others really take notice..
i swear, i was just going to write you a quick question, but it turned into all this. (this letter may be longer than most of neo’s!). my apologies. thank you for your time, thank you for what you do, and please know that it has made a difference in my life.

Response and additional questions after the jump …

R: I’m sorry you feel I’ve been elusive on the subject. Although I don’t feel an obligation to answer questions raised in a game of entrapment (just as Jesus didn’t), and although I’ve learned to be respectful of my hosts when deciding how a question should be answered “on the road,” in other settings I try to answer honest and sincere questions (like yours) in kind … and will continue to do so, for exactly the reason you shared so articulately:

often it’s the people who are oppressed that must stand up for their own rights, but this allows the oppressors to dismiss their actions as selfishly motivated people trying only to improve their own situation (heaven forbid!). but when straight evangelical pastors, or straight college students, who have very little to gain and very much to lose (congregations, friendships, status within the church, etc.) take such a stance, i think others really take notice..

You’re right that I haven’t written extensively on the subject to date. You’ll be glad to know that my upcoming book (A New Kind of Christianity – February 9, 2010 from HarperOne) will have my most extended and direct writing on the subject to date. I hope you’ll find it helpful.
You mentioned Adventures in Missing the Point – I love Tony Campolo, and it was such an honor and pleasure to co-author a book with him. Of course we differed on some points, but our deeper agreement is that these subjects must be dialogued about with openness, civility, and mutual respect. A lot of us have noticed that Tony is very willing to go against hundreds of years of unified, unequivocal church tradition on the subject of women in leadership, and he doesn’t consider doing so to be arrogant. Even so, what I love about Tony is that, in spite of his (to me) surprisingly conservative position on homosexual behavior, he makes sure that his wife Peggy’s views (which are similar to my own) get a hearing. He and Peggy model together that it’s possible to differ and still love one another and work respectfully together – a beautiful and needed example.
It’s not easy to balance truth and love as we are challenged to do in Ephesians 4. On the one hand, we need to love our gay sisters and brothers who have suffered and continue to suffer more than most people can imagine, and we need to tell the truth about their experience. On the other hand, we need to love our more conservative sisters and brothers who can only interpret our changing views on this subject to be compromise, etc. We’re caught between two groups both of whom we love and to whose feelings we are sensitive. I’m sure I have failed too often at maintaining this dynamic tension, but please know that I am trying and learning … and please keep me in your prayers. And again, check out the chapters of my next book that will deal with this subject in some detail.
Second question (or comment) …

I just want to write a note of thanks. I was at [an event where you spoke in Europe] and planned on writing a note to give to you personally, but was involved with prayer ministry so ended up not having the time to do it. Life can be so busy – so only getting around to it now! However, I trust this email will find you.
My name is XXX. I’m XXX [years old and a graduate of XXX]. I attend a baptist Church, which is quite contemporary in many ways (such as music, youth events, no clothing specifications etc), but not in others (there are to date no female deacons or elders and some would even struggle with female speakers on sundays… and very traditional-biblical focus on issues such as homosexuality). I love my Church – I have been privileged to find loving friends of all ages there and have had wonderful opportunities to serve there, however… not being heterosexual has been interesting to say the least, and difficult to be honest.
I have battled with myself in regard to my sexuality for years, and particularly the past three years. I wanted to be ‘straight’. I wanted to be ‘normal’ and be what is ‘required/acceptable’ as a Christian. I prayed for the Lord to ‘fix’ me. But it never went away. I certainly didn’t have a choice in the matter. I looked at all the viewpoints, stances and interpretations on the issue. Most viewed it as wrong or sinful (although granted that some had more care for individuals than others). Many would state that non-heterosexual orientation in and of itself was not sinful but any act of it was… which never really sat comfortably with me. I felt I could not be open, and when I finally was with [a person who … always seemed really easy-going and accepting), as lovely as she was, her first words were “this is not a part of you” implying that it was something that could be stripped of, prayed away, controlled or ignored. She mentored me for a [long time] … and I know that this left scars. I still love and respect her, but this time was not positive for my well-being. I felt spiritually better when I was ignoring this huge part of myself, which cannot be right?!
Since this time, I have been able to tell a couple of friends who have been non-judgmental and supportive which has been good, but haven’t been able to provide much spiritual guidance. I also spoke to the pastoral worker of the church who believes that we are all broken because of The Fall including sexual brokenness which is what non-heterosexuality is, and that Jesus was to redeem us from our brokenness including sexually. I have not been able to be open about myself with my family, church family or close friends because I know their stances and words would be more important than my heart which has been difficult. It has been lonely at times. I have looked at contrary-to-the-norm biblical interpretations which has been helpful, and the other day I read your blog on homosexuality (beautiful perspective with Acts 8) and checked out ‘Bridging the Gap’ which seems cool. (Cheesy but cool!). So this is why I’m emailing you. People like you give me hope. I see the work of God and the example of Jesus all over your life in the way you care for people, stand up for people, build bridges and so on. To this day I have never acted on how I feel because I haven’t figured it all out yet, but I am thankful for God-seekers like yourself who help people like me feel a little less alone and a little less deviant. Thank you, and may God bless you deeply. Come back to [our country] anytime – we were blessed to have you here.

R: Thanks for sharing your story. It’s hearing stories like yours that helps people see the need to give this subject a second thought. We need to create the kind of safe space where stories like yours can be shared, questions raised, push-backs responded to, etc. – space where a diversity of opinions can coexist and where love grows and prevails over fear and reaction. I’m glad we were able to create some of that space a few weeks ago in Ireland. Perhaps your email even helps create more of it here online.
Third note:

Brian- I am a man whose lifetime has been in Christian ministry, married for [many] yrs, [with] awesome kids, many, many friends in the church, mission field, and in society. I have lived with same sex attraction since I was a child and finally 2 ½ years ago decided that to live in integrity and authenticity as a man, and child of God, I needed to ‘come out of the closet’. I am still searching for how as man whose faith has been shaped by a Christian church community experience, I can relate to the church with the monumental decisions I have made. My life is still lived for God, in love, for love. The only ‘excluding’ factor is my choice to accept my orientation and the choices resulting from that decision. I am at peace and quite content finally with who I am and have attempted to work through the changes as gracefully as possible.
Well- maybe that was more than needed to be said at first, but I find hedging around the issue to be ineffective in the type of discussion I a seeking with other men of God in the body of Christ. I’m not looking for ‘help to change’, but for a conversation to develop between myself and the Body of Christ who have been my family for the 37 yrs I have walked with God. Are you open to conversation with me? I’m used to working with leaders and engaging in conversation at that level, so….here I am. I don’t want to monopolize your time as I know you are very busy and in demand. I would like to remain in a place of on-going fellowship with like-minded brothers and sisters, whose paths towards God allow for love to exist in the tension of such issues’. I didn’t expect nor ask to be here in this place, but have found myself here and am trying to be faithful in my calling to walk worthy.
I’ll leave it here and trust you with my story and path. I don’t have any resenting attitudes or defenses towards the church that are outside the scope, perhaps of anyone else in the Progressive Christianity movement who seeks health and change. We are all broken and seeking truth with blinders on, so I’m in the crowd with all others. Thanks for listening ~ if your heart should so lead you to respond, that would be a gift to me, I know.

R: Thanks to you too for sharing your story. I’m honored that you would consider me a safe person to talk to about this. As you can imagine, I can’t respond to all the wonderful people who seek me out, as much as I wish I could …. Thanks so much for understanding that. So here’s my suggestion: if you are currently in a church that can’t accept your identity (or if you’re between churches), it might be the most loving thing – for the church and for your own soul – to find another community where you will be welcomed and supported in your journey. Real people whose lives intersect at close range can make a lasting difference for one another, but someone at a distance like me can only be of limited help. So I try to do the best I can through my books and writings, without over-promising beyond that … I thank God for the churches and other faith communities that create safe space on the ground for people who are often seen by others as a problem to solve or fix, an abomination to condemn, an anomaly to tolerate, a threat to fear, etc. (Again, I’ll address this subject in a good deal more detail in a few chapters of my upcoming book – which comes out six weeks from today, by the way!)
Another Q:

I recently read your blog entry “synchro-blogging on sexuality” and your article from a few years ago in Christianity Today “on the homosexual question: finding a pastoral response.” I was wondering if you could direct me to some books that would be good to read for personal or small group fodder in addressing homosexuality.
Specifically, I am having a hard time reconciling my own evangelical feelings towards the sinfulness of homosexuality and homosexual acts with a desire to truly love and exhibit love for homosexuals.
I feel hypocritical saying that I can love them truly while still maintaining the standard evangelical attitude.
If there are materials that you are aware of and confident in that deal with this issue (i’m sure there must be) then I would be most interested in learning of them. I’d like to find responsible approaches to dealing with the “homosexual verses” that get brought up so often by opponents of homosexuality. I’d like material that can address the Biblical issues specifically and faithfully, as I’m very interested in exploring options of dealing with the problem of the way we view homosexuality.
From what I’ve read of yours, I trust your judgment, hence the query. So any guidance you could give in this area towards material would be greatly appreciate.

Great question, and thanks for your honesty and open heart and mind. If you wanted to read a book that will open people’s hearts a bit more on the subject, check out Andrew Marin’s new book. If you want to read a thoughtful engagement with the Biblical texts that shows how biblical people can accept and affirm their gay brothers and sisters with confidence and a clear conscience, check out Jack Rogers’ book.