Let’s agree to put an end to competition in spiritual matters, shall we? I’m talking about the need that we too often feel to assign motives and deficits of sincerity and spiritual wholeness to people who don’t agree with us. I’m also specifically talking about the gross misappropriation of scriptural passages to frame disagreement in a “I’m right because I love God” and “You’re wrong because you don’t love God as much as me” contest. In essence, it’s a form of spiritual extortion. If I disagree with someone, it is not kind, gentle or loving to create a dichotomy of motives in which I am seeking to please God and they are obviously just pandering to cultural and secular voices.
It’s Disrespecting of the Scriptural Witness.
We can and will disagree on religious and spiritual matters, regardless of the subject or text in question. To have a civil, Christ-like disagreement, we must give the benefit of the doubt to one another. When someone speaks of their faith, their sincerity, their love of God, their motives, their beliefs, their respect of scripture, or really anything, they should be taken at their word.
Yes, the scriptural writers said some things about motives:
~ Paul in Galatians 1:10, TNIV… “Am I now trying to win human approval, or God’s approval? Or am I trying to please people? If I were still trying to please people, I would not be a servant of Christ.”
~ Peter and John and then others in Acts 4:19 & 5:29, NKJV… “But Peter and John answered and said to them, ‘Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you more than to God, you judge.'” and “We ought to obey God rather than men.”
~ Paul again in 1 Thessalonians 2:4, NLT… “Our purpose is to please God, not people. He is the one who examines the motives of our hearts.”
~ And Paul’s important and beautiful sentiment in Romans 12:1&2, CEB… “So, brothers and sisters, because of God’s mercies, I encourage you to present your bodies as a living sacrifice that is holy and pleasing to God. This is your appropriate priestly service. Don’t be conformed to the patterns of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds so that you can figure out what God’s will is—what is good and pleasing and mature.”
What we do not find in these scriptures or in other passages is a license to blanket our brothers and sisters who disagree with us with the intention or motive of pleasing people more than God. In fact, please notice that Paul affirmed it is God who judges hearts.
I’m willing to accept that those speakers in the New Testament had sufficient knowledge to express their own motives, and I accept them at face value. I am not however willing to listen to Christians quote and paraphrase the same words in ways that paint those who disagree with them as not wanting to please God or to follow God’s lead. That kind of thing is a gross misappropriation of scripture and needs to stop. It doesn’t help us move forward or create meaningful dialogue. Instead, it violates in word and spirit the command of Christ, “Stop judging others, and you will not be judged” in Matthew 7:1, and verses 1-6 for a greater context and exposition.
It’s Disrespecting of People.
Why am I writing about this stuff? I’m sick and I’m truly tired of the accusation, explicit and implicit, that I am affirming of my LGBTQ neighbors because I seek to please people more than God, or because I choose to follow the voice of culture above the voice of God. I am sick of others having to deal with that accusation and maligning of their motives.
I regularly give my non-LGBTQ-affirming friends and neighbors the benefit of the doubt that they are sincere and trying their best to both follow God and love people, as I do with them on other points of theological and exegetical disagreement. It’s only fair to take people at their word when they say they don’t hate someone. It’s fair to take people at their word when they say they want to please God and when they believe they are pleasing God. If their choice of words and actions do turn hateful, I won’t hesitate to point that out, and have on occasion such as here and here.
Honestly, it’s this kind of disrespect that keeps us from having meaningful dialogue and sharing on so many points of disagreement. We must be careful of what I have started calling “Self-Marginalization.” Self-marginalization happens when we speak and act in such a way that others are repelled and prohibited from engaging us. As Marshall McLuhan warned us that “the medium is the message” we would do well as Christians to make sure that our medium is not the language or action of spiritual competition, disrespect or un-Christlike judgement.
I’ll end with these words from the Apostle Paul, some of my most favorite’est Pauline verses in Philippians 4:4-8, CEB. These words reject competition and domination. These words orient us to gratitude and service. These words ring with grace and wisdom…
Be glad in the Lord always! Again I say, be glad! Let your gentleness show in your treatment of all people. The Lord is near. Don’t be anxious about anything; rather, bring up all of your requests to God in your prayers and petitions, along with giving thanks. Then the peace of God that exceeds all understanding will keep your hearts and minds safe in Christ Jesus. From now on, brothers and sisters, if anything is excellent and if anything is admirable, focus your thoughts on these things: all that is true, all that is holy, all that is just, all that is pure, all that is lovely, and all that is worthy of praise.
With a heart heavy and sick over the pain, alienation, rejection and struggle of my cherished LGBTQ neighbors and sisters and brothers in Christ, I make this sincere repentance and confession public: I have been too quiet an ally. I’ve coasted easily along in my too passive affirmation of my LGBTQ neighbors, and I am sorry. I was wrong.
I’m “TORN” As I Write These Words
This is not really about me. This about my LGBTQ neighbors, my beautiful LGBTQ sisters and brothers who have had to speak for themselves for far too long as I held back. And yes, with the little paragraph title above I am shamelessly and joyfully putting myself into the story of Justin Lee‘s book, Torn. In his story is where I want to be. In his story, and stories like his, is where I intend to live and breathe and speak. It was reading his book last year that started an itch in my soul. I knew I was too quiet, I knew I must do more, but I didn’t.
My Privilege Is My Hurdle
I’m an educated Caucasian, male, heterosexual, Christian, clergy… does it get any more privileged than that in the West? I don’t have to talk about things I don’t want to talk about. I don’t have to defend who I am or apologize for myself, or for displays of public affection, or who I fall in love with, or who I want to marry, or if I can call myself a Christian. This is my privilege, and this is my hurdle.
I have chosen to speak out for marriage equality before here and here, and I even said that I’m not scripturally or spiritually condemning of my LGBTQ sisters and brothers, and I even promised to speak more about the biblical reasons and my journey to that position, but then I didn’t. And no one called me out on it. No one said, “Hey, you said you’d talk more about this!” And so I didn’t. So I sat in my privileged silence.
I repent of that silence. I repent that I have not been a strident, informed, vocal and down right annoying ally for my LGBTQ neighbors. I have waited too long and been too quiet, but no longer. Why now? People are funny. Among straight allies we have this stupid one-up-manship thing going on. No matter when I came out as an ally, another ally had been out longer and told me how late I was and attempted to passively or aggressively shame me. It’s happened again and again, and honestly it’s held me back. Allies seem to love their LGBTQ neighbors, but not other allies very much. That’s probably a sure sign of a disturbing stream of paternalism, my friends. We have to be careful. This past weekend I listened to some amazing LGBTQ people sharing their stories of the years and years it took them to finally be honest about their sexuality and find wholeness. They had long journeys to speaking out. They emboldened me. Their stories matter most here, not mine. I am joining their journey, and I’m so blessed to have been loved and welcomed. I am blessed to have them as my allies.
God and The Gay Christian
Last year I read Torn by Justin Lee (two years ago I got to sit at the Wild Goose Festival and have a beer and slice of pizza with Justin and just chat: still a cherished memory). This year I read Matthew Vines‘ book God and The Gay Christian. When I read it I knew I being called from my silence and I purposed to attend The Reformation Project conference in DC this past week. What a blessing that was for me. I sincerely pray it was as much a blessing for every other ally and especially every other LGBTQ brother and sister who attended.
Matthew’s cherubic face makes me feel old and his scholarship makes me feel dumb. Thank you, Matthew! Old guys like me need more kicks in the tush. Allyson Robinson was amazing. David Gushee (Changing Our Mind) was phenomenal. James Brownson (Bible Gender Sexuality) was a humble guide. And here are two bonus round transcripts from the conference, #TRPinDC:
1. Dr. David Gushee: “Ending the Teaching of Contempt against the Church’s Sexual Minorities”
2. Allyson Robinson: “The Three Temptations of the Affirming Church”
You’ve heard my repentance, and now for my confession. This is where I want to go on the record, out loud, with sincerity and full conviction saying: LGBTQ affirming theology is good theology. LGBTQ affirming exegesis is good exegesis. LGBTQ affirming ecclesiology is good ecclesiology.
That’s it. And I really will be blogging more about why I make that confession. I will unpack my understanding of what the overall scriptural message is in relation to being LGBTQ affirming. I’ll unpack why I believe that affirming theology, exegesis and ecclesiology are good. This blog entry is already feeling too long, but I want everyone to know where I stand, without any reservation or equivocation. I will be carrying the LGBTQ banner, loudly and annoyingly. My LGBTQ sisters and brothers deserve no less, no less of my love, no less of my concern, no less of my energy and my time.
I Will Listen, Love and Journey With You
One last thing. I do hope that people share this blog, for one very important reason: If you are LGBTQ and you need a brother, a friend, a pastor… I am yours. I am at your beck and call, at your service and I will listen to you, love you and journey with you. Find me on Facebook, on Twitter, and if you’re local to DC or Bethesda, come stalk me at Starbucks. I am yours. Be alone no longer.
Loving my LGBTQ sisters and brothers is never a repudiation of my heterosexual brothers and sisters, even the non-affirming ones! If you want to chat about this, and will do so civilly in a Christ-like manner, then I am also yours. I’m happy to go deep with you, prayerfully and meaningfully.
I want to end this post in prayer, and will do so with my appropriation of one of Paul’s prayers in Ephesians 3… “This I beg of our God, our God who is rich in love, strength and beauty: May you and I be overwhelmed by the Spirit, immersed and lost in Christ, to the point that we have a wider, deeper, higher and lengthening grasp upon the awesome love in which we are steeped, stewed, sent and spent. This is God’s glory and God’s great work among us, in the Church of every place and time, a glory and work which transcends the limits of our feeble and precious imaginations, hopes and dreams. Glory! Joy! Love! Grace! So be it, now and ever, world without end. Amen.”