(Written May 30, 2012.)
(I feel like I must start with a disclaimer: I do not mean to lump all Christians who believe that homosexual relationships are sinful into the same category. I recognize that people's beliefs on this subject are varied and complicated and nuanced. I know there are many who hold this belief who humbly admit that this is their human understanding of God's teachings, and I know that many have found peace in this belief. Although I disagree with their views on homosexual relationships, I have a great deal of respect for them, and I believe that differences of opinions are necessary for the health and growth of the church and of us, as individuals. The following piece is about a recent encounter with a group of people who do not project that humility and peace. I do not think they are unique, but I understand that they do not represent all who believe that homosexual relationships are sinful.)
I love a good debate. This is something that I've only recently learned about myself.* Lately, what has me reading and thinking and debating is my faith and how it frames my interactions with the world, including my political leanings. And there may be no hotter topic right now than the debate about homosexuality. For various reasons, most of my discussions have taken place on line. It can take some work to find civil forums for online discussion, but I'm happy to say I've found some.
Over the last couple of days, I've jumped into another on-line debate about this subject, but rather than leaving me energized and enriched and challenged, as the best debates do, this one, despite remaining civil, left me drained and discouraged. I wasn't discussing Greek and Hebrew translations or whether homosexuality as an orientation was recognized in Biblical times or how to weigh Old Testament teachings with New Testament teachings, as I enjoy. In hindsight, perhaps, that isn't surprising, as all of that information is widely available to anyone who is interested.
Instead, I found myself discussing issues of truth and clarity. I humbly cautioned people about their use of the phrase "The Truth." I explained that one can, indeed, believe in one, ultimate Truth and still recognize that we are all mere humans wrestling with ideas far beyond our comprehension. I explained that I use the phrase "my truth" not to suggest that there are multiple truths but to mean "my interpretation of the Truth." I wondered aloud how one sincere seeker's interpretation can be declared to be any more truthful than another's. I requested that people stop saying the Bible is "clear" on the issue of homosexual relationships. If it were, we would not be debating the issue. And declaring something "clear" has the effect, intended or not, of shutting down any further discussion. I explained that I don't have to ignore verses about homosexuality or cave in to a "feel good" society's pressures in order to hold my beliefs that homosexual relationships are not sinful.
I was completely and utterly spent. I wasn't sure if I should scream or cry. I just could not wrap my mind around how some people didn't believe that others could reasonably come to differing conclusions, how they didn't recognize the perceived hubris in declaring a monopoly on the truth.
As I was becoming overwhelmed with frustration, what I believe I was witnessing finally hit me. When humans are faced with a threatening situation, we are programmed to fight or flee. These people I was struggling not to judge as close-minded or arrogant were fighting with every bit of strength they have. Whether they recognize it or not, I believe they feel threatened. They probably feel scared. I can't imagine what that must be like. I can't imagine what it must feel like to worry that, if you "lose" this battle, your faith will become less meaningful. They are feeling pressure from secular society and from liberal-leaning Christians, and they probably feel the tide shifting. It must be terribly unsettling.
And just like that, my feelings of frustration, bordering on anger, shifted. My heart softened. And I felt sympathy. I've felt threatened and scared in other situations, and it's a horrible experience. I don't agree with their beliefs on homosexual relationships (including the frequently implied notion that where one stands on this issue is critical to calling oneself a Christian), but I can offer compassion from one scared human to another.
So I'm going to take a deep breath and think about whether or not and, if so, how I continue this debate. I will not stop reading and seeking. I will not stop discussing the subject with those who approach me with an open and curious mind. I will not stop demonstrating what I believe it means to be a Christian, by loving and serving the best way I know how. I will not stop striving to be all I was created to be. But maybe I will think twice about initiating this particular debate. Regardless, all of this I will do with a more compassionate heart.
And to my friends who, today or tomorrow or a few years from now, may find themselves reexamining their long-held ideas about homosexual relationships (as I have done over the last several years), I hope that, if you land on this side of the issue, your experience will be like mine. It has been a soft place to land. A loving, peaceful place. A place where I have never once felt like I was not being true to the teachings and life of Jesus of Nazareth. May we all be so blessed as to find this place in all areas of our lives.
Peace and love, my friends.
* To my parents and sister: If you find yourselves reading this and laughing out loud about that second sentence, let me suggest that the tendency to argue with a pole (which, reluctantly, I admit I will do) is entirely different from an interest in a civil exchange of ideas.