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On LGBTQIA+ Affirmation

June 2022 was quite a month for me. It started with the death of a long-time friend. It ended with my being on a phone call with my father while he experienced a stroke-like event. (Turns out: not a stroke. He’s home, and doing ok. Hallelujah.) In the middle was a thing called Pride Month, which had a little more visibility at our home than usual. Two of my kids identify as LGBTQIA+ and have embraced visibility more this year than ever before. (I got their permission to say this here.) So, one of these things is not like the other, but stick with me here and I’ll connect the dots.

Part 1: Online Community

Since Geof died last month, the online community he fostered for nearly 20 years (referred to as “RMFO” for reasons long since forgotten) has been renewed. I have hosted two Zoom “happy hour” calls, and both times 15-20 people have joined, chatted for 2-3 hours, and left with a request that we schedule another one. We have spent these hours catching up on life and recounting our own personal histories as they interact with the RMFO community: singles who met their future spouses in the group; couples once struggling to conceive who now have teenagers; marriages, divorces, job changes, moves, faith evolutions. Online friendships have led to “real-life” friendships, meet-ups, and job opportunities. At the end of the first call I realized that, while I had long considered many of these people meaningful to me, the call helped me realize that I was meaningful to them, too. My thought last week as I closed out the second call: this is the closest thing I’ve had to a healthy, functioning community in my adult life.

During last week’s call I talked about how my own personal views on some issues have evolved over the years, and how I have struggled to find an in-person community (specifically, a church community) where that evolution was welcome. Share those views too loudly and you will be welcome to find some other church to serve and worship at. Five years of quiet discomfort weren’t enough to dislodge me from my last church; their tepid COVID response was the straw that gave me the courage to break the proverbial camel’s back. Two years later I still haven’t found a new place to join. If I’m honest, I haven’t really looked too hard.

Part 2: My Dad

My dad is talking a little slower thanks to the medications he’s on after his health scare, but he’s not talking any less. When we talked last week after he got home from the hospital, we spent a while comparing current reading lists and discussing how some of the books I have given him over the years have helped guide his journey out of a fundamentalist faith into something much more open and gracious. That’s his story to tell, not mine. But what he said toward the end of the call stuck with me: that coming close to death now makes him unwilling to stay quiet on the topics important to him. And I thought to myself: that’s a lesson I should take to heart here in my 40s.

Part 3: Chuck Pearson

Chuck Pearson is a friend of one of the RMFO guys — someone I have never met but have followed on Twitter for years. Last week he posted a beautiful essay about his journey leaving a tenured professorship at a Southern Baptist university when he knew he would eventually be required to sign a “personal lifestyle statement” that would “[force] him to disown his LGBTQ+ friends and family”. Chuck ultimately found a post at another university, but still sat quiet about the topic of LGBTQ+ inclusion:

Ultimately, it stayed private because I didn’t want to burn those bridges. Even as I made that realization that I had to choose between two sides I cared about deeply, I couldn’t bring myself to take that final step of declaring my choice.

In his essay, Chuck quotes from an Alan Jacobs essay from 2014 that argues for Christians to stand firm against the cultural evolution of views on sexuality. Here is Jacobs’ conclusion [preserving the emphasis from the original post]:

Either throughout your history or at some significant point in your history you let your views on a massively important issue be shaped largely by what was acceptable in the cultural circles within which you hoped to be welcome. How do you plan to keep that from happening again?

Clearly Jacobs has in mind a call to resist the desire to be welcomed by “the world” by accepting “worldly” views on sexuality. But for me his question takes the exact opposite orientation. How long have I been convinced about full acceptance of LGBTQIA+ people in the church but been afraid to say so, knowing that it would make me unwelcome in the evangelical church circles I have run in my entire life? Far too long.

Conclusion

So let me make a long-overdue statement as clearly as I can. I am a Christian, and I affirm those who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, intersex, and asexual as they are, unconditionally, including their full inclusion into the assembled body of Christ known as the local church. I know there are those who would say I cannot hold that view and be a Christian. I reject that assertion.

There are multiple serious approaches to the Scripture on the topic which I will not go into here. Suffice it for now to say that you cannot read Scripture as a flat text. It is the product of thousands of years of God’s progressive revelation as understood and recorded by humans. In the end you have to come to some conclusion on which texts capture most clearly the essence of who God is, and use those as the framework from which to understand the rest.

And so, to quote Brian Zahnd:

God is like Jesus.
God has always been like Jesus.
There has never been a time when God was not like Jesus.
We have not always known what God is like—
But now we do.

Jesus taught these two principles in summation of all the teaching: love God with everything you have, and love your neighbor as yourself. He embraced the outsiders and rebuked the self-righteous. He called us to follow Him in lives of self-sacrificial love.

In addition to Jesus’ teaching, we have the witness of the Holy Spirit in the lives of our LGBTQIA+ brothers and sisters — so many dear, tender souls who consistently model what it means to follow Jesus, even in the midst of a church that rarely welcomes them. And to that I can only respond as the Apostle Peter did after first seeing the conversion of Gentiles to Christ: “Can anyone object to their being baptized, now that they have received the Holy Spirit just as we did?” (Acts 10:47)

Rachel Held Evans summarized it this way: “The apostles remembered what many modern Christians tend to forget—that what makes the gospel offensive isn’t who it keeps out but who it lets in.”

To this I say: Amen. May it be so.

14 Comments

  1. I’d be interested in that reading list of books you’ve given to your dad. I have some siblings that might benefit from a broader collection of books with a more inclusive worldview.

    • Gary, Dad has also been talking about putting together a reading list. Maybe he and I can collaborate and I can publish something here.

  2. roncjzmsncom roncjzmsncom

    The, “… who it lets in,” are the dirty, rotten, stinkin, sinners in need of forgiveness, right? These are the ones who have repented (turned away) from their sins and trusted Jesus to conform them to His perfect Image?

    Questions:
    -Do you believe the sexual forms of expression in the LGTBQIA+ culture sin?

    -If so, isn’t repentance the Gospel directive?
    -If not, are all forms of sexual expression OK?

    Jesus said that He came into the world not to condemn it (Jn 3:17) but to save it. We, His saints are, likewise, not to condemn, but save. How do we save?

    • Ron, I’m fascinated that you home in on sexual acts (what I assume you mean by “sexual expression”). What I have learned through this journey is that gender identity is so much more than just how a person expresses their sexuality with a partner.

      Of course not all sex acts are “ok”. Anything non-consensual, abusive, degrading, unloving, or not good for the other person is clearly a problem. Loving your neighbor as yourself includes that “neighbor” closest to you, and includes your behavior in the bedroom.

      I’d be pretty careful about suggesting that we as Jesus’ followers are supposed to do everything He did. He is God incarnate… we’re not. But if I step past that to answer “how do we save?”, I’d suggest that we “save” by pointing people to Jesus, in whom is the redemption and reconciliation of all things.

      • roncjzmsncom roncjzmsncom

        Thanks for your reply, Chris. I tried to be very focused and concise in my reply. My first thought on waking is that I came across severe by not expressing tenderly more of the subtler aspects of what I wanted to say. I did not want to address gender issues from birth to pre-puberty. My goal was to get to the point of repentance as key in the LGBTQIA+ conversation regarding Christianity. Sexual acts in the mind and flesh were, therefore, useful to get to the sin issue.

        I have known and loved folks in my family and elsewhere who were from the LGBTQIA+ community and have no bias against them. What I was targeting in your statement (sorry to not have made that apparent) was, ” … including their full inclusion into the assembled body of Christ known as the local church.” We at SB have welcomed folks from the LGBTQIA+ community in the past and continue with open arms … as everyone else. By, “full inclusion,” do you mean membership? What follows presumes your answer is yes.

        One of the several key issues of church membership is the attitude toward personal sin. Someone who flat-out says, “I’m not interested in stopping … fill in the blank.” That person has a low view of the cross. We all had that view at some time (maybe ) but a person who wants to surrender to Jesus, can not have that attitude. That is a mutually exclusive relationship. It’s all about the heart … attitude … motivation. I sin daily, hate it, repent of it regularly, but my attitude is that I desire to be conformed to the Image of Christ and open myself to the sanctifying power of the Holy Spirit hoping and trying to be a partner in the process.

        Can someone who is of the LGBTQIA+ community be repentant of their sin? Absolutely! Can someone from the LGBTQIA+ who is blatantly unrepentant of their sin be a Christian? Your statement answers that with a yes. Am I mistaken?

        • Ron, you appear to be presuming that “someone who is of the LGBTQIA+ community” is, by virtue of identifying as a part of that community or by virtue of what sex they might have in a non-straight relationship is sinning. I am not presuming that. In fact, I am affirming that LGBTQIA+ people can have non-straight sexual relationships that are glorifying to God and not sinful.

          I am fully aware of all the typical Bible verses that get quoted at this point in the discussion to try to demonstrate that my previous paragraph is not in line with Scripture. To those I would point you back to the bulk of my Conclusion section where I briefly touch on how I have come to believe is the wisest way to interpret Scripture as a whole. It is not in line with typical conservative evangelical teaching or with how Stonebridge would teach. I’m OK with that.

          • roncjzmsncom roncjzmsncom

            Please comment on just two biblical truths:
            -God’s severe judgement of Sodom. What are we to learn from this utter and explicit action of God’s?
            -Paul’s revealing of the, “profound mystery,” that the husband/wife relationship, first referred to as one-flesh in Genesis is now to be viewed as a picture of Christ and His church, (Eph 5:31-32). Can you honestly believe that gender fluidity can be applied to the biblically well-defined terms of husband/wife?

            So much of my wrestling with biblical exegesis and personal application is to not go down the, this-makes-sense path. My career as a design and troubleshooting engineer caused me to mix common sense, uncommon sense and thinking way outside the box. That’s served me well in my career, but the Bible has to be used in a more rigid manner than what-makes-it-all work kind of way.

            Deep down I want to believe like you. I do; it’s tidier. I just don’t think it’s right to pick and choose how to apply the Bible. There are certainly gray areas of biblical application, but messing with the husband/wife relationship is not one that is right.

            A sobering reminder to my daily walk (that I wrestle with every day) is: Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? (James 4:4) I believe the growing tide of gender issues and the weakening of the husband/wife relationship is the worldliness James is referring to.

            As ridiculous as it is to the world, sex outside of marriage is sin. Sin is bad; it required the torture and death of Jesus to satisfy a holy God.

          • Ron, it looks like we’ve hit the limit of nesting comments so I’ll reply here and hopefully it works.

            Ezekiel 16:49: “‘Now this was the sin of your sister Sodom: She and her daughters were arrogant, overfed and unconcerned; they did not help the poor and needy.” Whatever is going on with the Sodom story, it’s more complicated than God destroying the city because of homosexual behavior.

            Re: Paul’s “profound mystery” – first I’d say it’s still pretty dang mysterious – Paul is likening the mutually submissive husband/wife relationship to the relationship of Christ & the church… but in what ways? What does that actually mean? And there is nothing in this passage that explicitly excludes other relationships, or that excludes singleness. If you believe it’s there, you’re reading it into the passage.

            What sort of “rigid manner” do you propose is appropriate for interpreting the Scripture? I would suggest you already pick and choose how to read and apply the Bible. Do you greet the brethren with a holy kiss (1 Thess 5:26)? Do you insist that women stay silent in church (1 Cor 14)? Do you insist that women cover their head when praying in church (1 Cor 11)? Do you insist that women not wear jewelry (1 Tim 2:9)? If not, why not? These are all clearly commands in the New Testament. Are you picking and choosing?

          • roncjzmsncom roncjzmsncom

            Sorry for the delay. Life got busier than normal. The passages you mention at the end were more concerned with the current events of the local culture and not meant to be rigidly enforced in all cultures of the world throughout time. They were certainly debated, of course, and applied in various ways ever since.

            Ezekiel didn’t take anything away from Moses’ account of the destruction of Sodom. It stands to reason that Sodom was not just a monoculture of homosexuality. Ezekiel fills in a bit there. The importance of the sins of Sodom can be seen in it’s inclusion in the NT.

            Reread Eph 5:22-33. Aren’t the roles of husband and wife clearly defined? You can add roles found in 1 Pe 3:1-7 as well. These are not just suggestions.

            You’re well read. My guess is that you have read:

            Out of a Far Country: A Gay Son’s Journey to God. A Broken Mother’s Search for Hope, by Christopher Yuan and Angela Yuan.

            The Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert by Rosaria Champagne Butterfield.

            Holy Sexuality and the Gospel: Sex, Desire, and Relationships Shaped by God’s Grand Story
            by Christopher Yuan and Rosaria Butterfield

            These are autobiographical, personal and compelling. What are your thoughts on these?

            I have seven grandchildren so far and wonder (concerned) how they will respond to the public overly-sexualized culture of children in the last decade. (The product of the Sexual Revolution of the 60s & 70s?)

            If you’re done with this thread; I understand. Thank you for your comments and opinions.

            -Your brother, Ron

          • “The passages you mention at the end were more concerned with the current events of the local culture and not meant to be rigidly enforced in all cultures of the world throughout time.”

            So let’s not skip past this quickly. You suggested in a previous comment that I was “picking and choosing” which passages to apply. In the same comment you said “the Bible has to be used in a more rigid manner than what-makes-it-all work kind of way.” But you are quick to interpret direct commands given by Paul as “not meant to be rigidly enforced in all cultures of the world throughout time.”

            So how do we discern which biblical passages are meant to be “used in a more rigid manner” and which ones are “not meant to be rigidly enforced”? We call this Biblical interpretation, and we would do well to examine how we have been taught to interpret scripture. What I have come to realize over a lifetime in the evangelical church is that many of the interpretive principles seem to have been reasoned backward from the conclusions already reached. I.e. “we know X, so how does this passage explain X?” When you don’t presume the conclusion, the interpretation can become much more open and interesting.


            The Sodom & Gomorrah passage you return to is as good an example of this as any. You insist (as I, too, was taught in evangelical churches for my whole life) that God destroyed S&G due to rampant homosexuality. A close reading of Genesis 18-19, though, isn’t so clear. In Gen 18:20-21, God simply says “their sin is very grave”. In 19:5-7, the men of Sodom ask Lot to bring the male visitors out “that we may know them”, and Lot implores them “do not act so wickedly”. We can infer here that the crowd’s apparent homosexual intent is what Lot is describing as wicked, but the text doesn’t explicitly say so. Similarly in 19:13, the angels say “the outcry against [Sodom’s] people has become great before the Lord”, but it doesn’t say what the offense is.

            So in fact, the only passage referring to Sodom that explicitly states what their offense was is the Ezekiel passage. Why the church has interpreted the sin of Sodom as being homosexuality, whether there are other understandings possible, and whether the sort of riotous rape described in Genesis 19 should really be considered equivalent to a consensual 21st century gay partnership are all questions worthy of more consideration than I was ever taught to give them.


            As far as the Ephesians 5 and 1 Pet 3 passages go: in both passages the Apostles are providing direction for how husbands and wives are to relate to each other. If you are reading that passage to say “homosexuality is wrong” or “same sex marriage is wrong”, you are reading those messages into the text, not getting them from the text. The text simply doesn’t say anything of the sort.


            I have read several essays and online pieces by Yuan and Butterfield. I haven’t read the books you mention. I agree in general their writing is “autobiographical, personal, and compelling” as individual narrative, and I don’t doubt that their narrative reflects their experience. However, I don’t find their overall Scriptural arguments compelling as universal principles.

            If you’re willing to consider reading something from a different perspective, let me recommend

            • Heavy Burdens: Seven Ways LGBTQ Christians Experience Harm in the Church by Bridget Eileen Rivera
            • God and the Gay Christian by Matthew Vines

            I appreciate the discussion!

          • roncjzmsncom roncjzmsncom

            My, “rigid manner,” comment was in response to what I believe is the flexible manner you use regarding homosexuality and the Bible. Does the Bible ever legitimize same-sex relationships? Rather it is quite the opposite. Here are just a few, which you are probably familiar with:
            -lev 18:22 … an abomination
            -lev 20:13 … an abomination, sentence: death
            -rom 1:27 … shameless, error
            -1 cor 9:9 … will not inherit the kingdom of God (yes, I know what your question may be)

            My point is that homosexuality is never mentioned in a good light.

            You downplay the homosexuality of the Sodom passage with the statement, “… doesn’t explicitly say so.” My ESV describes who showed up and what they wanted:
            -the men of Sodom, both young and old, all the people to the last man, surrounded the house. Gen 19:4
            -Bring them out to us, that we may know them. Gen 19:5 Their intentions seem pretty explicit!

            You are right in that I am not saying the Ephesians passage is saying homosexuality is wrong. What I am saying is that it not only establishes the one-flesh relationship (Adam/Eve … man/woman) in marriage, but it blows all these new Christians away by revealing that the profound mystery ever since Eden of this one-flesh relationship is a picture of Christ and His church! This mystery revealed and the specific roles Paul documents is especially important in Biblical Counseling. These have been powerful directives in re-shaping the couples I’ve counseled over the years.

            I understand your sensitivity to my rigid/not rigid use of imperative statements. Here is an example of non-rigid statement. It is clear that men are to be the head of the household. Does this mean in every last detail? Of course not. Women can have many leadership roles in the family. But if the husband abandons all responsibility and authority how will that man be judged?

            Issues regarding women speaking in church, covering their head, jewelry, hair … all need to be understood in context to issues with which Paul was specifically dealing. Knowing culture, author, audience, history etc. all need to used to properly interpret scripture … and apply it.

            There is a lot less gray areas in the imperatives than many would want, but same sex relationships is not one of them to me. Am I saying all unrepentant same-sex folks can’t be saved? Absolutely not. God’s grace is more than I can imagine, but fostering a relationship with the Almighty with arms crossed is a frightening thing to me.

          • Well, we’re covering the full gamut here. A few more thoughts:

            You say “Homosexuality is never mentioned in a good light” in the Bible. I can agree this is probably so but also suggest that as we learn and understand more about our world and the realities of the people in it, we may need to re-understand how the ancient text applies to our lives. The authors of the Biblical texts had no real conception of egalitarian, consensual, committed gay relationships. They weren’t a thing in those times. I don’t think we can read Paul, much, less Leviticus, as clearly opining on our 21st century world.

            It has been the work of the church since the Bible was collected into a canon to wrestle with the texts as a faith community, enlightened by the Holy Spirit, to try to understand what God is saying to us through it and how it applies to our current lives. The church didn’t stop that wrestling and just lock down a single, authoritative interpretation after the Apostles died in the 1st century, or after Augustine in the 5th century, or after Luther or Calvin in the 16th century, and we shouldn’t stop wrestling with it now.

            And if you want to make a case that Lev 18 and 20 are a clear word to us for today, I’m going to ask you to apply Lev 19 as well and ask about cross-breeding animals, wearing poly-cotton blend shirts, and eating your steak medium rare.

            When I read the rest of your comment regarding the various NT texts, it seems to me that you’ve chosen to apply principles of Scriptural interpretation that allow you to determine which passages are imperatives for all time and which ones were only applicable to the 1st century culture in which they were written. These principles seem, almost too conveniently, to accommodate the cultural behaviors you’re comfortable with – women are ok to speak in church, don’t need to wear head coverings, and let’s dispense with kisses as greetings, that’s just weird – while rigidly ruling out the ones you’re uncomfortable with.

            I understand how you get there – believe me, I have lived my entire life in the evangelical church and have studied it and soaked it up – but I no longer see it as the right way to understand the Bible.

            Jesus is the eternal Word of God, and is the truest representation we have of what God is like. So, when I choose to think through how to understand what God has for us in the Old Testament, or how we are to understand Paul or Peter or John, I have come to see that I need to understand those texts through the lens of Jesus and his teaching. With that I’ll refer you back to what I said in the last few paragraphs of my original blog post.

            I think we’ve about played out this conversation, but I do appreciate your interaction. I’ll let you have the last word if you want it.

          • roncjzmsncom roncjzmsncom

            Yes, Leviticus was written for a specific reason to a specific people at a specific time. A case can be made that forbidding same-sex relationships was a call to procreation. I mention that reference only because of the language used translated into English: abomination or a detestable sin. That seems to put a certain vile spin on the significance.

            I have enjoyed our dialog. I try to embrace critical thinking in figuring things out, and I value your opinions.

            Because of the previous statement, I’d enjoy knowing your opinions for two last questions:

            1.) How do you view consensual sexual relations between a man and a boy. NAMBLA has been very active in lobbying DC to rewrite law for many years … stressing the consensual aspect.

            2.) Are we to give a nod, in general, to fornication?

            You can have a last word. Thanks.

          • 1.) How do you view consensual sexual relations between a man and a boy. NAMBLA has been very active in lobbying DC to rewrite law for many years … stressing the consensual aspect.

            First off, I’d suggest you update your information re: NAMBLA. The latest reporting on them I can find is from 2016 when they were reported to have only a handful of members. There has been basically nothing from them since. To your question: I don’t believe there can be consensual sexual relations between an adult and a minor. The age difference creates a power imbalance that makes consent impossible.

            2.) Are we to give a nod, in general, to fornication?

            In general, no. In general I think we have overemphasized sexual sins compared to other sins within the church, but in general fornication is not God-honoring or conducive to human flourishing, which I believe are reasons why God tells us it is a sin.

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