Complexity of Divisive Topics in Church

Thanks Katie for your post “’the homosexual lifestyle’ – a rhetoric of bigotry”. It is a perspective that needs to be heard and continues to challenge my use of language surrounding the LGBT community. Your article prompted me to think through some of the complexities of this issue and other divisive issues that tend to polarize the church while attempting, as you wrote, to avoid harmful stereotypes. This post is hopefully less of a commentary about homosexuality, but rather an attempt to use this topic to examine how the church addresses these divisive issues.

A quick background on where I’m coming from. I’m a white straight male who has grown up in a church that’s always taught marriage is between a male and female, and sex is to be reserved for marriage (which rules out sex with the same gender). The attempt of this post is not to defend this perspective, but an attempt to shed light on some of the complexities facing someone with my upbringing, who is attempting to figure out: what would Jesus do (sorry for the cliché) with a topic like homosexuality.

I have been in enough church circles and heard demeaning, hateful “rhetoric of bigotry” aimed at homosexuals. I’m extremely uncomfortable in these situations and have called people on using that language because it is contrary to how I understand the God of love, as I understand him/her.

On the other hand, I’m also uncomfortable, personally, endorsing sexual intercourse outside of marriage and am not sure about this same sex marriage thing. I recognize this discomfort has a lot to do with my upbringing, which affects my reading of scripture, how I value scripture, and understanding of God’s “intentions”. I think I am mature enough in my faith to recognize how much upbringing affects my approach to scripture and that I can’t comprehend God’s intentions, much less claim to speak for him/her.

As a straight male, I don’t claim to be able to understand homosexuality, but let me attempt to explain some of the complexities using experiences I do understand. The church body, as I understand it, is a group of broken individuals who are all attempting to follow the example of Jesus. As a group, we come together, and say, for example, “As followers of Jesus, we think it is best to reserve sex for marriage.” So as members of this group, we attempt to hold each other accountable to that standard. As a 25 year old dating non-married person, not having sex is a difficult standard, but I hold to that, because I think there is value to standard (which I won’t go into here).

Now it gets tricky how to deal with members who break that standard in our community, but there is this idea of to truly love this person, we must approach them in love about correcting what some would label “sin” and maintain that value that we hold as a community.

We should NOT attempt to force these standards on those who aren’t trying to follow this same Jesus guy, but it gets REALLY tricky when we run into people who are following this same Jesus, but do NOT hold the same standard that the group has valued.

As a community, we should NOT attempt to force these standards on those who aren’t trying to follow this same Jesus guy, but it gets REALLY tricky when we run into people who are following this same Jesus, but do NOT hold the same standard that the group has valued (name your issue: pre-marital sex, war, abortion, divinity of Jesus, alcohol, not oppressing people, rock music, women in ministry, and homosexuality). Our choice is either to say,” we agree to disagree, you can still be in this community.” Or “This standard is so fundamental to my understanding of what it means to follow this Jesus guy, that I can’t recognize you as a member of the same community I am part of.”

Premarital sex and same-sex marriage, for me, falls in the “agree to disagree category”. I think someone who is having sex outside of marriage or is in a same sex marriage can be just as good follower of Christ as me. The complexity therefore is that I am a part of a church community that discourages both. Unfortunately we have greatly erred in our approach to these issues and have attempted to IMPOSE these standards in way that is both hateful and discriminatory.

So here I stand, extremely uncomfortable at how church has hatefully approached homosexuality, but not willing to wholeheartedly endorse it. This may be the age old question but I’m curious to hear from others, what is the most effective way to relate with other followers of Christ on issues we don’t agree upon? Katie has done an excellent job of pointing out that the church has failed in this regard. Where do you draw the line on fundamental dogma or decide to agree to disagree on doctrine?

Comments (11)

  1. Skylark

    Hey! It’s a Denver post! This really does seem to get to the heart of the issue. For those who don’t know, Denver and I go to the same church.

    My approach so far has been to talk about these hot button issues when someone else brings it up. I believe enough things that are different than the mainstream that “live and let live” seems “safest.” I’m inexperienced with how to address these topics with the entire congregation. The leadership may not be representative of the community. It’s theoretically possible to have one-on-one conversations with each person in the church to figure out where they stand. That’s lengthy, time-consuming and perhaps not completely useful.

    I had a conversation recently with a Christian woman. She overheard a gay male’s comment that a particular Christian male who is in a straight relationship “is trying to be something he’s not” and that he’s exhibited homosexual behaviors (whatever that might mean) in the past. She had heard allegations before that this male might have homosexual attractions, and this seemed to be another confirmation. I inferred from her statements that she thought this male should not be in a straight relationship.

    “Wouldn’t most conservative Christians want him to avoid homosexual attractions and pursue straight interests?” I asked her. “I frequently hear Christians saying sexual identity is a choice and that becoming straight is the answer.”

    She said she “didn’t think he could beat this thing on his own.”

    If that’s a widespread attitude, it sounds like our homosexual friends can’t win certain people over even if they do deny their same-sex attractions.

    Piggy-backing off Denver’s questions is this: Can I be in Christian fellowship with someone who dismisses those who don’t agree with them on the divisive topics? Can I “agree to disagree” with someone who doesn’t “agree to disagree” with me? If someone isn’t interested in thoughtful discussion from more than one viewpoint, what it to be done? What if this person isn’t raising a public stink about it?

    Reply
  2. folknotions

    ooooh! I spent so much time working on my last comment that I didn’t even get to see this post! Denver has brought up a fascinating point, and Skylark’s response I think raises a good question too.

    My feeling is that it is our duty as Christians to instruct those who have allowed secular argument to enter our church is imperative.

    I already posted this under the “The Homosexual Lifestyle” thread, but I think that the Mennonite Church USA and Canada haven’t grounded their anti-queer doctrine in scripture. It is all rendered from secular gender and sex assumptions.

    There is simply no message in the Bible that explicitly points to being queer as wrong. It is only in tenuous assumptions from scripture that we are able to support anti-queer arguments. I think we Young Anabaptist Radicals have accepted the church story on how to interpret scripture toward anti-queer messages. But the interpretation is wrong.

    Therefore, we Young Anabaptist Radicals have an obligation to instruct our fellow Anabaptists that they have been led astray by secular assumptions. Anti-queer teaching is not Christian teaching.

    If anyone wants to debate the evidence in scripture with me, I’d be happy to do so.

    Reply
  3. Forrest Moyer

    Denver said: “So here I stand, extremely uncomfortable at how church has hatefully approached homosexuality, but not willing to wholeheartedly endorse it.”

    I’m there with you, Denver, and it’s good to hear from you. The place you describe is an extremely uncomfortable place to stand, and even more so for those of us who have a homosexual orientation–because we have to actually decide how we are going to live our lives. I choose to wholeheartedly endorse heterosexuality as the design and gift of God and I choose wholeheartedly to leave homosexuality behind. So I have done and will do the rest of my life.

    My predicament now becomes: How do I maintain relationship with all the YARs (my generation of leaders) who think I’m off track? I do not fear dissuasion…I know I’m on the right track. But what is hard for me is the pressure of realizing that so many of my sisters and brothers do not agree with me or support my beliefs–and then the difficulty of trying to build relationships in the face of such a fundamental disagreement. Sometimes it feels like it’s just a matter of time until things fall apart into schism….

    But that’s a cynical attitude, and probably encouraged somewhat by the impersonal nature of a blog. I’m also aware that this blog takes for granted views different from mine. So be it. I think I can make peace with that.

    I have to keep reminding myself that disagreements over sexuality are really little different than disagreements over war. And I don’t get frantic around those who oppose my belief in peace and nonviolence; I generally am able to overlook the difference of belief in an attitude of Christian love and fellowship. But I don’t go to a church that teaches that war is acceptable, either. For me it is important to be part of a church that teaches truth in regard to war–likewise with sexuality. I praise God often that MCUSA still affirms the sanctity of sexual realtions in the context of heterosexual marriage. I also pray that all of us will continue to grow toward greater love and faithfulness in our response to those who are sexually broken. After all, we do claim to offer “Healing and Hope”, not hate and fear.

    So there’s just one man’s perspective–a white young man with homosexual orientation who is determined to live a straight life. We’re probably the smallest minority of all :) Maybe YAR should take up our cause, as well…

    Reply
  4. Lora

    Folknotions, Forrest, et al–I just want to say that I think it’s not wise to assume that all of us who regularly blog and/or comment on YAR agree on any given issue. Sometimes we do, sometimes not, and it’s really good to be very clear what (who) you mean when you say “YAR” — do you mean twenty-somethings or specifically folks who count themselves a part of this blog?

    That said, Denver, I think you’ve raised an extremely important issue. The closest I’ve come to an answer is to commit myself to not cutting myself off from those with whom I disagree, and to be in relationship with everyone I encounter in a way that offers them dignity above all else. And I try to listen much more than I talk, although I probably fail at this way more than I succeed. :)

    Reply
  5. folknotions

    Lora,

    Sorry about that, I should have been more specific.

    I meant both the folks on this blog (the YAR’s) and the young anabaptists (the..YA’s). I haven’t yet encountered an argument from a queer perspective that disputes anti-queer interpretations of the bible.

    If you know of any, please steer me in the direction, as I am trying to find resources on this!

    Reply
  6. Skylark

    Folknotions, you asked for an argument from a queer perspective that disputes anti-queer interpretations of the Bible.

    I’ve got to hit the sack shortly, but I thought I’d post the following from an entry on my personal blog nearly two years ago. I hadn’t decided then for sure what my position was. The entire entry goes into other aspects pro and con about homosexuality. Read the rest of it here: http://www.xanga.com/kralyks/291007966/item.html .

    **************************************
    1. Homosexuality goes against the Bible.

    What the Bible does have to say on the topic is not clear. Take, for example, 1 Corinthians 6:9-11:

    Do you not know that the wicked will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor male prostitutes nor homosexual offenders nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And that is what some of you were. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.

    What exactly is a homosexual offender, and why would one not inherit the kingdom of God? Many people I know zero in on that phrase, saying this clearly shows God disapproves of all homosexual relationships and sex. However, the phrase “homosexual offender” is unclear enough without the cultural evidence I’ll discuss next.

    According to Dr. Duane Watson, an ardent opponent of homosexuality, Greco-Roman culture had no concept of homosexual monogamous relationships. People had sex with whomever was convenient at the time, and there was little concept of sexual orientation determining who was attractive to whom. It was in this context that the New Testament was written. The surrounding culture had no concept that people might be attracted mainly to one sex or another, although presumably those who did marry, married someone from the opposite sex for procreation issues. Therefore, we should not expect New Testament authors to address long-term monogamous homosexual relationships.

    That means Christians can use Scripture to condemn promiscuity, hetero- and homosexual, but it was never meant to talk about the possibility of homosexual marriage. This is similar to the way the Bible appears to support slavery–it was simply not in the cultural mindset that people ought not own each other. When the Bible does speak up on that topic, it’s to condemn bad masters, not masters in general.

    It is also worth noting that the Old Testament account of Sodom–which many dismiss as not relevant for today, only New Testament passages apply–is mainly a story about bad hospitality, not homosexuality, in Jewish hermeneutics. Face it–being gang raped by strangers is not a good way to leave a positive impression on visitors. I didn’t understand why hospitality would be such a big deal, a bigger deal than sexuality, until I did some reading on ancient cultures and discovered that treatment of guests was highly valued. I suppose that since people were spread out considering they had to walk to talk to people far away, welcoming people who showed up was of prime importance. So it makes sense.

    For those of you who think I don’t take the Bible seriously on this matter or that I refuse to listen to what God says, think again. Scroll up–I read the same passages you do, I take them just as seriously, and I consider cultural phenomena that could influence what the text says. It’s not as easy as, “Read what was written in first century Israel. Assume the words and concepts are exactly as they appear to a 21st century American. Apply to all apparent issues.” Quite frankly, if you’re going to do that, you probably ought to insist that all women wear head coverings, never braid their hair, and never wear jewelry, because Paul mentions that, too. Most of us have already implicitly decided that those admonitions are culturally-bound and not relevant for today’s Christians.

    And, going back to the passage I quoted above, swindlers and slanderers are just as much sinners as whatever the homosexual offenders are. If the Christian church spent the same amount of time condemning cheating people and spreading lies about them as it does condemning homosexuality, well, things would look a lot different. Is not poverty a greater evil than homosexuality? No one can look at Jesus’ concern for the poor and say Christians ought not be active in “lifting the yoke of oppression.”

    In short, I don’t think we can use the Bible to say that all homosexuality is a sin.
    *****************************
    End of quote from Skylark’s blog.

    I welcome feedback on the theology and cultural interpretations I presented. I was fairly fresh out of college when I wrote that, and certainly I wouldn’t write it exactly the same way today. If my theology stagnates at the understanding I had when I was a new college grad, I shudder.

    Reply
  7. Forrest Moyer

    Lora, thanks for pointing out the ambiquity of my use of the term YAR. I was referring specifically to those who express their views on this blog, but recognizing that they represent a significant section of our generation (20-somethings).

    I agree that I should not assume that all are in agreement on any one issue. My comments were a reflection of the impression I have gotten that my fellows who blog on YAR generally hold a more permissive(?) position than I, particularly in regard to issues of sexuality. That’s what I struggle to be at peace with.

    I think there are many young people in the Mennonite Church who are polarized on the issue of homosexuality–either embracing it or fearing it homophobically. There seem to be less who are both educated about and comfortable with the topic, but who recognize homosexuality as a negative, and who are willing to forsake it or acknowledge it’s brokenness in love. These are the people I hope to journey with–sisters and brothers who will not deny my brokenness, but who will encourage me on my journey toward wholeness. People like this seem more scarce…and perhaps particularly scarce among the YAR (blog) community. If anyone disagrees with that generalization, please speak up! I’d love to hear from you :)

    Reply
  8. Katie

    Folknotions said,

    “I haven’t yet encountered an argument from a queer perspective that disputes anti-queer interpretations of the bible.If you know of any, please steer me in the direction, as I am trying to find resources on this!”

    I think Skylark gave us a good start. I feel like I could offer some direction too. I must say though, there is a lot of this sort of work out there and if you haven’t encountered it, it might mean you haven’t been looking very hard. I feel like queer positive theological work has been done pretty thouroughly but (speaking from my experience) I don’t see a lot of straight folk in the church paying much attention to it. Then when the discussion comes up, everybody waves their hands around and says we need to start by deciding what the Bible says and doesn’t say and how do we interpret the whole Bible so we can talk about this issue. Sorry if it feels like I’m coming down hard on you, but non-queer folks need to do some work because it’s not really fair to claim ignorance anymore.

    I will offer a few ideas to get you started though.

    Walter Wink edited a great book called Homosexuality and Christian Faith: Questions of Conscience for the Churches. Included are essays by James Forbes Jr, Peggy Campolo, William Sloan Coffin, and a bunch of other folks. Included is also Winks essay “Homosexuality and the Bible” which you can read here if you don’t want to read the book.

    (shameless self-promotion alert!) You might check out some of the offerings on the Brethren Mennonite Council website. Specifically you could start with the Resource Packet (pdf), our bibliography for churches (doc), and our weblinks.

    A Mennonite group called the Welcome Committee has put together 8 booklets covering different topics that relate to the Mennonite church and the lgbt community. They are available online or in print.

    I hope this helps a little. If you do nothing else, read the Wink essay and maybe look through the Resource Packet.

    Reply
  9. eric

    To follow up on Katie’s (great) comments:

    Why should anyone have to give a queer-positive biblical argument, when no one has ever, actually, given a valid queer-negative one? Folknotions is right-on when he says this is a secular homophobic issue and not a biblical matter at all.

    The Bible could care less about homosexuality. It cares more about what meat you can eat, how you treat your slaves and whether you need to marry your brother’s widow. Until the church takes a firm stand on those three imperative issues, I don’t want to hear it talk about homosexuality any more.

    Why does the burden of proof always fall in the hands of the oppressed? Why not in the hands of those who would condemn, exclude or “fix” other people? Even our secular judicial system is (ostensibly) more forgiving than that.

    Why, also, do we have to pretend we agree with everything in the Bible? We don’t. No one does. Bill Donahue doesn’t. James Dobson doesn’t. John Howard Yoder didn’t and neither does anyone in the world. You can’t. It’s full of contradictions and arguments. It disagrees with itself. We read it for themes, we get an understanding, and we interpret it through that understanding.

    That’s a whole nother [sic] post.

    Reply
  10. folknotions

    Katie,

    You’re right that I haven’t been looking very hard, as I have only recently begun to look. Thanks for steering me in the right direction. I have looked on the BMC website, though haven’t checked out Wink yet.

    Eric – the burden of proof has traditionally fallen in the hands of the oppressed because power doesn’t have to justify oppression, as it is usually barely justifiable. It just forces itself upon the oppressed.

    Reply
  11. Pingback: “Sex” - More on bigoted language » Young Anabaptist Radicals

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