A few weekends ago my beliefs were challenged. First, I was challenged in my understanding of grace. Then I was challenged in my understanding of theology. Finally, I was challenged by an encounter with someone unexpected. I do not mean to cause any controversy as I share this, but believe it worth sharing.
It started with a podcast. I had left my home city and was preparing to drive for four hours across the country to a music festival to take time out with God. I decided that I would begin the journey by catching up with the latest Liturgists episode (http://www.theliturgists.com/podcast/) but wasn’t ready for the topic – LGBTQ. It contained stories of various perspectives on the topic from theologians, pastors and those outside formal ministry about their personal experiences either with their own orientation or as they encountered others. It challenged me to the core.
I went to an all boys school where if you weren’t straight you were a victim. After leaving school, thanks to the wonders of Facebook, I watched as friend after friend came out. I also went to a church where the issue was never discussed. My theological understanding was from the quick comments and quotes from various parts of the bible saying that the only right way to be was to be straight. Anything else was a sin. It was never said out loud – it was the unsaid fact that everyone knew – and there were no openly gay church members.
The first thing I realised as I listened was that I had treated those who I knew who were gay as second class citizens. I have good friends who have gone public, yet I had never really accepted them in the way I perhaps should have. I have prayed for forgiveness on this matter, although I suspect (and hope) my misgivings were well contained by a professional exterior.
The second thing I realised was the the Bible I had been taught was wrong. Forgive me again, because I need to explain. The Bible has to be read in context. It has also to be read in relation to co-text. The first is related to the audience something is written for. The latter is related to the verses surrounding the individual verse we choose to read.
In relation to most scripture on homosexuality, the Bible has been quoted many times. And yet when you consider the passage in 2 Peter supporting slavery (which in fact it does not, but suggests grace should be at the centre of the behaviour of those trapped) and 2 Timothy bans woman speakers (which in fact it does not, but suggests that attending church should be about community not show) there are few churches that would not refer to both context and co-text to explain why what seems to be a clear command can be easily ignored. I intend to discover what the original verses connected to sexuality really say when I get a chance, but so far they are not all as clear cut as I had expected – which is surprising, because I thought it was the opposite! In fact, according to my online searches for direct Greek translations, that language can sometimes (but not always) be ambiguous. I’ll ask a friend whose about to study Greek to look deeper for me… My understanding of the bible has also changed in recent months as I accept that it was written by humans trying to express their experiences with God.
I had to address what I believed, and this is where I found myself. I believe in a loving creator God. I believe we live in a fallen world. I believe that God takes care designing us. I believe it is wrong to judge others. I believe that I am an incredible sinner and much worse than many others. My conclusion? What I regard as sin is probably no worse than the sin in my own life, and God loves me still. How do I express this love? By loving and forgiving others in the way I have been loved and forgiven. On those grounds I am in no position to tell anyone that how they feel is wrong. In fact, I have even come to believe that some people are designed to be different from the socially accepted norm. And on those grounds I cannot dismiss someone who classes themselves as LGBTQ merely on the grounds of their sexuality when grace teaches me that compassion and justice for the downtrodden is the hallmark of Jesus life.
Next came the test.
On my travels I got hungry. I pulled in to a Premier Inn. As I looked around I realised that it was the same site I had visited with two friends the previous summer and was next door to the McDonald’s I had also visited with my brother on route to a funeral the year before that! This location seems to draw me. As I finished my meal somebody sat opposite me. They asked if I was a Christian – possibly obvious from my meal time reading material – and asked my about my views on homosexuality. I said that I didn’t believe that that was the most important issue, and that Gods grace and compassion meant it was more important that they knew they were loved and accepted than it was for me to pass judgement. They then ‘came out’ to me and asked me to pray. I was their trial person, and I genuinely hope they get a chance to speak out to their family without judgement. There was pain and fear in their face before they spoke, and total relief afterwards. They did say that they wanted to keep the secret because of the role they have in their own church. I think it is a huge shame this is the case, but I will continue to pray for them.
After this encounter I have been changed. I intend to make a life choice to be the sort of person that is willing to listen when people are hurt. If anyone else came to me, I would pray for them too – regardless of the issue – and offer grace and support where I was able to. The moment I become judgmental and unaccepting I have failed. This random person could not reveal their own sexuality because the reaction of their church community scared them. Surely that is a dramatic failure in the part of the church; when the home of the broken becomes picky about what type of broken are welcome, they have got it very wrong! Too many people live their lives without ever revealing the internal dialogue within their minds and as a result never get to share something that society has made into a burden, often leading to loneliness, depression or dissatisfaction. If I have helped this one person begin a journey of restoring themselves and their relationship with God then I am happy. And I pray that others see me as someone that can be trusted. Nobody should ever have to hide how they feel for fear of being cut off.
I also accept that we live in a fallen world where church isn’t perfect. I choose to be part of the solution. I choose to be open, accepting and listen, because I have my own issues and sharing them with people I trust makes a huge difference. If you are reading this and have something to share, I pray you can find one person who you trust; someone one will accept you where you are and not force you to be where they are.
“For ALL have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and ALL are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.” Romans 3:23-24 NIV
Not some… ALL! Be open, be part of the solution and, most of all, be loved by the God who gave His life out of love for you AS YOU ARE.
Please note, nowhere here have I stated that I am pro-gay or anti-gay or anywhere in between. I have stated, very clearly I hope, that I am pro-compassion and pro-mercy and pro-grace.
No offence is meant by anything said, and I certainly do not wish to dismiss scripture, but I do want to engage in the poetry of theology as I follow the God that loved me so much He sent His only son to die for me. I want to replace accusation with love, criticism with compassion. I want people to encounter the living God and I trust that He will guide each of us towards the life He intended us to have, whatever that might be.