This post is one giant preface to Part II, where I will be sharing my thoughts on homosexuality in society and church. Given our culture’s extraordinary hostility and tendency to oversimplify the issues, I felt it crucial that I dedicate an entire post to re-framing the issue so readers can rightly understand my perspective. For me personally, this is without question the most difficult topic I could write about. Here are the nine reasons:
- Timing is everything. Writing about homosexuality right now feels like a daunting task because major events impact public perception and generate a lot of conversation that had been previously dormant or non-existent. After 9/11 Americans suddenly wondered who these Islamic terrorists were and to what degree Muslims were or were not a public threat. On the one hand, there was increased prejudice toward Islamic Americans, the government embraced a simplistic (“You’re either with us or against us”) and preemptive (Iraq II) foreign policy, and certain civil liberties were suspended. On the other hand, there was greater understanding about Islam, the country awoke from its post-Cold War Utopian vision, and an important national discussion began about the relationship between safety and freedom. In sum, the fallout has been a mixed bag. I’m not suggesting that the repeal of “Don’t Act, Don’t Tell” is anywhere near as important as 9/11. The comparison is simply that a significant event stirred passions and prompted discussions, and the responses with be undoubtedly be both good and bad. My intention is to prompt thoughtful consideration in this unfriendly climate.
- I’m a hard-lining moderate. Ours is a society of one-sided ideologues, and on no issue is this more apparent than on homosexuality. Both extremes are not only skeptical but are, in fact, vehement that there can be no middle-way. It’s all or nothin’. What is more, they both seem to have framed their entire position upon the slippery slope fallacy. For the liberals, anything but full embrace of the homosexual lifestyle will lead to sheer oppressive hatred. If you so much as try to nuance that position you get branded a bigot. For the conservatives, anything but a complete, unqualified condemnation of homosexuality will lead to absolute moral corruption worthy of God’s fiercest wrath. It’s believed to be an utter abomination and a scourge upon society. And, of course, these accusations are worst among professing Christians on either polarity. Both sides believe they’re standing for a moral imperative, which is probably why, for all my research, I’ve yet to come across a single writer or website who I truly felt belonged in the moderate camp. Perhaps my efforts here are hopelessly optimistic–a charge I rarely face–but I hope this series will contribute to the growth of a moderate position on homosexuality.
- I committed to Anglicanism amidst an ecclesiastical civil war. Most folks outside the Anglican tradition aren’t aware of all the gory details, but they have heard about The Episcopal Church’s (TEC) appointment of a practicing gay bishop and the resulting church split. We all know the media usually oversimplifies issues. This is especially true in regards to religious matters. In this case, the usual coverage says that the conservative/traditionalist Anglicans break from TEC is about homosexuality. Thankfully there are some like this CNN blogger who explore the possibility that this is a misconception. An imperfect analogy for his alternative view would be the Civil War. People still debate whether it was about slavery OR states’ right, economics, cultural differences, etc. That’s a poor way to approach the issue, though. Clearly those were all factors. The real question is which factor was primary. At least initially, the war wasn’t about preserving vs. abolishing slavery. Yet the South’s “Peculiar Institution” was the underlying cause that pushed all the others to the surface, thereby starting the war. The important distinction there is that the war wasn’t about slavery but it was fought over slavery. Likewise, the Anglican feud is over homosexuality, differing interpretations of Scripture, and so forth. But, as the CNN blogger suggested, it’s about “two rival versions of Anglicanism.” Only a historically near-sighted perspective fails to realize that the rivalry dates at least as far back as 1873 when the Reformed Episcopal Church was founded, and the issue then most certainly wasn’t homosexuality! Unfortunately, most people–including many Anglicans and Episcopalians–don’t understand that difference.
- I’m an Anglican newbie. I’m like the guy who just married into a dysfunctional family. He sees all the problems, but hasn’t been dealing with the same crap for years upon years so it doesn’t seem all that bad. I don’t have all the heartache and scars, anger and resentment as do so many folks on either side of the Anglican-Episcopal divide. Right now I happily attend a Communion Partners TEC parish while helping plant an Anglican church. In some sense this is actually a good thing. I’ve not had those experiences that make me “older,” as the unfallen Queen in C.S. Lewis’ Perelandra would describe it. The trouble is that most of my Anglican readers have a deep investment on one side of the fence or the other. They assume that my moderate position means that I don’t fully grasp the issues or that I lack conviction.
- I’m seeking ordination with a conservative Anglican group. It’s one thing to join a tradition. It’s quite another to join, then immediately seek a position of leadership. It gets even more complicated when you then dislike the group’s simplistic position on the hot button issue that prompted its creation. Going back to the Civil War analogy, it’s a bit like joining the Union, becoming a general, then announcing that you don’t like Lincoln’s political philosophy on states’ rights. I still agree with the overall cause of the North but I think they need to spend some serious time refining their treatment of Southern state governments, if you will.
- Evangelicals are known for self-flagellating the Body of Christ. During a lecture on WWII, a professor of mine remarked, “In 19th and 20th century history, few groups were as ideologically opposed to one another as Christians and the Soviets. But they share this much in common: No one shoots their own quite like those two.” Evangelicalism is replete with ordained jackasses who teach us to shoot our wounded when they dare disclose their injuries. Little wonder, then, that there’s an exodus of gay and lesbian persons from evangelical churches. These people often bear grave wounds. They’re spiritually and psychologically dying. And they’re either going to get help from within the Church or abandon it to seek medical attention elsewhere. That problem highlights the reason I want to be the pastoral equivalent of Philip Yancey. I feel like I’m one of the few non-liberal evangelicals who cares about this problem. Most seem too busy fortifying the walls for the next round of battle in the culture wars to care about our soldiers bleeding to death on the battlefield.
- Evangelicals can no longer speak to society with moral authority. With all our blatant hypocrisy, we’ve lost that right. It’s like the marriage counselor who’s been divorced five times. I believe in grace and forgiveness, but at that point the man needs to find a new profession. Anyone who takes him seriously is a fool. We evangelicals are in the same boat. The title is an annoying rip-off, but I recommend Ron Sider’s The Scandal of the Evangelical Conscience: Why Are Christians Living Just Like the Rest of the World? It’s definitely worth reading. This “Do what I say and not what I do” bullshit has got to stop and discerning church discipline has got to start. When the rate of evangelical divorce and addiction to internet pornography drops significantly, then we might regain the credibility to tell society about God’s intention for sex and marriage. Until then I say we shut up and focus our energy on removing the plank from our own eye. Maybe then we’ll see clearly enough to help our neighbor with the speck in his.
- Mine is an outsider’s perspective. This isn’t meant in any condescending way, but I’ve never struggled with homosexuality. I cannot empathize with people who find themselves attracted to members of the same sex. In my heart, I’m trying hard not to be one of those people who, having never dealt with it themselves, makes this sound like such an easy issue. I openly acknowledge my limited perspective. Nevertheless, I should note that I reject the idea that only those with firsthand experience can speak to a thing or that their opinion automatically cancels out those of others. Clearly it’s possible to have insight into something you’ve never personally done. I’ve tried my best to develop a thoughtful, well-rounded perspective by studying this issue and cultivating relationships with people who do feel same-sex attraction. I can only hope to keep growing in my knowledge, love, and compassion.
- Gay and lesbian readers will read this. Whether a person has embraced a homosexual lifestyle, kept it hidden, tried to “realign” their sexual orientation, or accepted their homosexual orientation but committed to remain celibate, it is an intensely personal issue. Perhaps not a lot, but there will be gay and lesbian readers. These sorts of posts have an immediate commentary on and importance to their lives. I feel an immense weight in writing about this because I truly care for these people. Furthermore, I have gay and lesbian friends and acquaintances. One guy I know studied cross-cultural adult education as an undergrad. One of the things he likes to point out in that in all communication trust is either being built or destroyed. It’s never neutral. There will be consequences for whatever I write in Part II. I know that it has the potential to raze or deepen the relationships I have with gays and lesbians. Quite frankly, it scares me to death that what I write will harm those I love. I’m troubled that I might further their mistreatment by the Church. Even if there’s disagreement, I hope the overall result will be greater trust.
Thanks for reading Part I.