A House Divided
Are we Christians really still arguing about homosexuality?
I didn’t always believe that homosexuality is not a sin. I’m in Year 49 born and raised in the Deep South, a preacher’s kid. I was taught all the same scriptures so many of you were taught. I was given the standard interpretations that you were given. I also told the same jokes and whispered in the hallways about the same people.
Because my parents are something special (I hope your parents are too!), I was taught that being violent was just as wrong as being gay. Yes, I was taught that being gay was wrong, a sin. I was also taught that violence came in the form of actions, inactions, and words. I heard at school “Sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me,” but was assured at home that words do hurt. I was taught that the Bible says so and that how we use our words matters.
It is 3:00am. I have slept a little and am now wide awake again. And, I knew that if I didn’t get out of bed and write this down, I wouldn’t be going back to sleep anytime soon. And, trust me, I do want to go back to sleep. It is one of my favorite things to do.
Finding a way to write this is being difficult, though. I have been avoiding it for days — hence the gap in “daily posts.” There are so many things floating not only through my mind, but through my spirit right now that it is difficult to know how to write something interesting, honest, and that makes sense without getting too bogged down in details.
I’m an ordained pastor serving in a denomination that is made up of geographic judicatories (primarily geographic anyway). My particular judicatory has been arguing about homosexuality for years. In fact, about twenty years ago, the committee that works with incoming candidates for the ministry (those just beginning the process toward ordination) saw how those candidates were being used as the battleground for this issue. It was the easiest place to ask questions that put people on the spot and to force a conversation that would result in “taking a stand as the whole body.” A lot of these folks were young people, still figuring out if and how they were being called by God, certainly not biblical scholars or even fully developed adults yet. It was cruel and the body as a whole agreed it was inappropriate to use that situation and those young people as the ball in a volleyball match between those of us who were already ordained and disagreed on some interpretations of scripture and the document that guides our denomination. So, we all agreed. We will talk about these things, but not in the moment when new folks are coming to tell us about their newly forming call to ordained ministry. It was the right thing to do.
This era of practicing hospitality and kindness to young people discerning a call to ministry came to an end this week. It was horrible and sickening and violence was done with words that hurt much more than if a stone had been thrown. Some of those words came from me. I’m an emotional woman — thank you God for making me an emotional woman! As Mardy Murie, one of the mothers of conservationism said to Congress, “I ask you, gentlemen, what is wrong with emotion?”
My emotions were running pretty high during this week’s meeting and I’d say that my mouth released about 25% of the thoughts that came to my mind. Those around me probably thought I was saying every single thing that I thought out loud. Sometimes I was funny — a very important thing for me — but mostly I would just allow my words to burst through anger. That was not appropriate in any way whatsoever. I don’t think I said anything cruel about any specific person. I hope not. But, I may have used words that hurt others and that makes me feel sick to my stomach.
I was sick to my stomach — that’s how we say it in the deep south, sick TO MY stomach — during that meeting and most of the time it wasn’t because of what I had said. I watched folks in their forties, sixties, eighties use one woman to volley back and forth in a move that was clearly about the woman coming up next. It was truly horrifying to watch. Without getting too bogged down into the business of the situation, there was a critical vote taken that would decide if the body would continue the custom of the last two decades in not allowing incoming candidates to be used for this argument among those already ordained (clergy and laity).
This vote for the ruling of the moderator would mean that questions for the would-be candidate would be limited to more general discussion of calling and life experiences rather than persons of the judicatory being able to ask more specific questions on theology, biblical scholarship, and, specifically, one’s beliefs on whether homosexuality is a sin. A vote against the ruling would open the floodgates and allow such questions to be asked of each person being recommended as candidates for ministry. And, because we know how these judicatories work, it would have meant a very long argument on the floor primarily between clergy that had very little to do with the candidates themselves.
The vote was literally tied. This is the way we live in this country now. The divisions are so deep that any time there is controversy, the house is divided against itself. 50% of us did not want to open Pandora’s box and allow such questions to be hurled at people just beginning to discern their call. It would open young candidates to questions that most of us have spent years in study to even begin to understand what we believe about what the Bible says about homosexuality. 50% of us believed it is too important to not have incoming candidates forced to answer such questions. Why approve them as a candidate if later we will ask these same questions and it may be more difficult to tell them “no” once we actually know them well? When this outcome was announced, “It seems we have a tie,” my brain was too slow to stop my mouth.
“Dear God, Help Us!”
I said it way too loud. And, likely those around me interpreted what I was saying in all kinds of different ways. That’s another thing with words. They always need interpretation. All words. All thoughts. All scripture. All confessions. All manifestos. All words require interpretation.
My prayer was sincere.
“Dear God, Help Us!”
I would have been happy had the way I voted been in the majority. I would have been frustrated had the way I voted been in the minority, but for it to be so clearly divided down the middle was yet another indication of how screwed we are in the USA right now. How are we going to find common ground?
Today Facebook was down for hours. Everyone was searching for news via Google to figure out what was going on. And, it meant that the ongoing argument about this meeting and what was done there had to take a pause — at least in that public forum. I don’t know if the pause provided any perspective to any of us or not, but when FB did come back up, there was the voice of another young person commenting, like a voice crying out in the wilderness,
“Please. Remember all these comments are about a real and living human being with feelings. Please. This is a child of God.”
I once believed the same interpretations of scripture and our confession for a long time. I thought “Well, I hate the sin but love the sinner” was the most beautiful and loving thing I could say about homosexuality. Sincerely. I realize some of my friends will not believe that anyone could ever truly believe this was not just a slogan, but a true belief and seen as “the loving way.” It was. That makes me sick to my stomach now too.
Something that felt so loving at the time became such a violent weapon used against people in the Church. Most of those “sinners” that we loved so much left and never came back. And, we didn’t mourn their leaving.
Homosexuality as used in the biblical narrative is a word from modern times with modern understandings. Those who interpreted scripture never even used that word in the Bible until the 1940’s. I believe it was used as a weapon then and that it continues to be used as a weapon now. Words, all words, even the words of the Bible require interpretation. We can accept the interpretation of others or we can study and come up with our own interpretations, but there is no essential doctrines that are made absolutely inarguable in this brilliant and beautiful, not to mention, living Word of God. Jesus IS the Word and it is Jesus who helps us in gaining understanding, then gaining more understanding, then gaining a little more, and continuing to gain understanding until we live as consistently as he himself lived.
There are people who interpret some verses of the Bible differently than I do. I think they are wrong. I think homosexuality was never intended by God to be made the divisive issue that it has been in the Church. I think that God created those who are homosexual in God’s image. I think my kid who is transgender is also created in the very image of God. This way of believing did not happen overnight and it certainly did not happen without a whole lot of Bible study and prayer. I don’t know what will be revealed to me by the living Jesus next and I will not presume to tell anyone else what Jesus is revealing to them.
Where is our common ground? How do we have a conversation when we are so divided? Only Jesus can help with that. And Holy Spirit will do that very thing without calling any of us to destroy another child of God with our words and actions.
Sunday is Solidarity Sunday, a day in which the Church sets aside time to remember those in the LGBTQ+ community who have suffered violence and death simply because of their identity. Harvey Milk, Tennessee Williams, Rebecca Wight, Brandon Teena, Roxanne Ellis, Gwen Araujo, Kimberly Morris, Xavier Emmanuel Serrano Rosado, and Matthew Shepard are just a few names on a list that is far too long.
This is our common ground — to end violence of every kind whether physical or hurled across the internet in words. It isn’t likely we will ever all agree on a single interpretation of Holy Scripture. While it can be daunting for a house to be divided against itself because of these interpretations, I happen to believe it can still stand. I’m even bold enough to find it absolutely beautiful that God speaks to us in such diverse, unique, and wonderful ways.
Even if it happens to be three o’clock in the morning!