I want to start off saying this post is my own opinion. These thoughts are something I feel I need to get out there and off my chest. As a pastor of a congregation that tries to welcome everyone who came I feel like I've been thrown into the whole LGBTQ arena. It has caused me both pain and joy. As a trans-local leader and theologian I am struck repeatedly at how this is an issue many leaders and congregants are wrestling with, often with a lot of their own pain and joy. (I want to thank those who have taken the time to be vulnerable with me over the years, I hope this post helps in some small way.)
Personally I've tried to keep out of the debate of what is the right way to approach this issue - I have my views and I'm not convinced that trying to make others agree with me is that fruitful. In fact the more time I spend wrestling with this issue the more I'm convinced that there is no one solution, but that we need to pursue God with boldness and see where we end up. Mistakes are inevitable, but humility must triumph over fear. What I want to do in this post is identify a few issues that I think get in the way of having a fruitful conversation around this important issue.
This is a term that gets thrown around too easily and also disregarded too readily. Much as I try to avoid this term if we are going to use it then it might be helpful if we found some precision for what homophobia actually is. For those who disregard it, it might be helpful to reflect on the fact that homophobia is not just being afraid of queer people or a so-called 'gay agenda'. Homophobia is also being afraid of the effect that your response to queer people will have on your ministry or relationships. Fears play out in the arena of speculation, so when we imagine the worst outcome we are being homophobic (and also allowing the fear of other people's opinions cloud our ability to hear and obey God.) Just because welcoming or accepting a queer person might strain other relationships is never a good reason to not do what you know to be the right thing. We are always accountable for our response to those whom God brings to us and not for how that might make it hard (or easy) to fit in with everyone else.
On the other side, when we just name as homophobia every possible objection raised against including and/or affirming (these are two distinct things) LGBTQ persons and concerns, we are refusing to hear what underlies the objections of others. This is a difficult tension. It is worth hearing the objections of others and actually having the conversation. And not just to find faults in these objections - the underlying foundation for these objections is often rooted in concerns we can all share (such as the concern over faithfully following God). Sharing concerns does not mean we need to always share conclusions, but it is important to not let an issue like this lead us away from the deeper issues. As a result, my queer friends don't get to label everything homophobia. In particular they do not get to discredit arguments based on a blanket statement that might not name what is the real concern. By the same token my queer hesitant friends cannot dismiss their own possible homophobia. Homophobia, if we insist on using the term needs to be used carefully.
Foundations are Painful to Uproot
Which leads to the second thing I know which is basically that there are hard liners on all sides of this issue. Unfortunately hard liners usually just cloud the issues. You can tell them because they refuse to hear and acknowledge the legitimacy of the other side. Hearing the other side does not mean you have to give up your own views. I was talking with a guy I really respect yesterday and he reminded me to the term "mutually transformative" relationships. This should be our goal when engaging in this conversation, we must go into it with the humility that says there is probably good reasons for the views of the others and understanding those reasons might even shift my own views, but also have confidence that we too have good reasons for our own views. When we lose sight of that goal we risk becoming unhelpful in the conversation. I think it is really important for us to have a voice, to speak our minds and hearts. I think it is also just as important for us to hear one another.
The Issues are Complicated
The reality is that you can still be an ally of LGBTQ folk and hold a complicated or even unsettled view of the issue. Jesus really calls us to be an advocate of people. We can affirm people and walk with people as they move towards wholeness, even if their understanding of wholeness differs from our own. Church leaders in particular need to learn to do this better, and I'm encouraged when I encounter those who are trying to do just that. I actually consider myself an LGBTQ ally not because I'm in favour of marriage equity but because I want to be Christ to the people God sends my way and want to see them through God's eyes not through my own biases. I'd be lying if I say that I'm completely settled on the issues. Some of it just puzzles the heck out of me. Where I am settled is that I want to treat every person with dignity and respect, and am willing to walk and pray with them as they follow after God. One size really does not fit all. I will do my best to obey God as I see God leading in every situation trusting in God's leading and faithfulness.
Language is the Problem
Unfortunately, we as a species do not like complications. Over and over I hear language used in this conversation that is meant to frame the debate in ways that are easy to dismiss. One that I really dislike is the appeal to 'same sex attraction'. Nice language if you want to imply sexual orientation is a choice and that being queer is ultimately something you can cure. While this may be an important view in the conversation, it is not helpful to make it sound like 'the answer' because we've claimed that homosexuality is just attraction to the same gender. Human sexuality has never been this simple. Sexual orientation is more than just being attracted to someone of the same gender, and when we frame it that way we deny the identity component. Worse, it allows us to belittle the struggles of those who don't fit into the heteronormativity of our society.
Terms like traditional, orthodox, etc., always make appeals to norms that are constructed and highly contextual. I'm grateful that some of the conversations are reflecting a hesitation with these terms that gives me hope. (BTW I moved to the term queer because my queer friends tell me that is the term they prefer to use.) Maybe we should let the others have an equal say in the language we use? That said, I'm just as bad at this as the rest of you - so really just recognizing that language is a problem is helpful.
Love is the Bottom Line
So here is where I end up - ultimately I know I will be judged not on how well I fit in, but on how well I loved. I'm not always the best at this, I think of myself as a learner of love. But my heart is to love because I was loved. What overwhelms me most about God is that even in full understanding of all I've done, do, and will do - God chooses to love me. I'm so grateful for this. So I've made it a mission to try and emulate that love to all who come my way. It is hard. But it is also worth it. I get that some of my queer hesitant friends think the most loving response to my queer friends is to tell them they need to get right with God. In fact I think that if this is your conviction then you should voice it - but at the same time you should listen to God and not expect that their getting right with God will look like you expect. Heck, the reality is that all of us could use some getting right with God. But if all your expression of love is telling people you dislike who they are (and are convinced God also does not like who they are) then you might want to think about that. There has to be more to love than dismissing a person.
I remember my friend James who came out to me (I was a new Pentecostal convert at the time). I remember telling him that I thought God had a problem with him being gay, but I didn't. At the time that was my honest view on the issue. James became a great friend of mine and a genuinely enjoyed hanging out with him. The point is that love is so much more than a warning (no matter how well intentioned) can ever be. Love involved me being there when James was going through hard times, not judging but listening and caring. Love is what we are called to do as Christians, more than anything else love forms and informs our way of being in this world. If we have not love, then we really have nothing.
I'm sure that this will continue to be a complicated issue. I'm sure it will be painful too. I don't have a lot of answers, but these few things are what I do know about the LGBTQ issue. We need to listen more. Find places to be vulnerable (and as leaders create places where people are safe in this vulnerability). We need to be careful about our language. And most of all we need to let love take the lead in all we say and do.