I expect more pushback – of the kind, kind of course – on this post than most. I hope not, but I might even lose some regular readers over it. The debate about how God feels about gays and how the Church must relate to them is a firestorm for sure. As we speak the Supreme Court is debating the issue of gay marriage and whatever ruling to which they arrive will undoubtedly give politicians and talk show hosts from both sides of the aisle, as well as preachers from a variety of theological persuasions, plenty of fodder for pontification. I pose no opinion on that particular matter here; I just wanted to recommend a book and a free video for your consideration.
Ever since I moved to San Francisco I’ve been intrigued, if not puzzled, not just about the gay community, but about what some might consider an oxymoronic concept, the “Gay Christian.” Though it may sound to you like I’m going backwards, I have to admit that I used to know more than I now know about a number of things.
“Knowledge puffs up but love builds up,” said Paul. “The man who thinks he knows something does not yet know as he ought to know.” 1 Corinthians 8:1-2 On the issue of gays in the Church I’ve relocated from the city of “Certainty” to a neighborhood called, “Agnostic” (lit. “not knowing”). Though I’ve always believed in and tried to practice an all inclusive love and respect for people of all faiths, ideologies, and lifestyles, I’m being challenged by the Spirit to prioritize understanding others over being understood by them.
To anyone who wants to have what you “know,” challenged (or possibly affirmed) I have a book and/or a video that I’d like to recommend. I can’t say that I agree with every conclusion of either of these, but they both make some very insightful observations and propose some biblically mandated character qualities for all followers of Jesus and their communities. The first is a book called…
Oriented to Faith: Transforming the Conflict Over Gay Relationships by Tim Otto
If you’re gay or part of a “Gay Affirming Church” you might not think this book goes far enough. On the other hand, if you’re straight and part of a “Traditionalist Church” (for lack of a better term) you’re likely to think that it goes way too far. Because of that, plus other Christ-like qualities that he possesses, Tim, who is an acquaintance of mine, displays the courage of his convictions even though he is liable to be heckled by people on both “sides” of the issue.
Tim tells you straight up that he’s not straight, but a “celibate gay Christian.” He’s one of the pastors in the Church of the Sojourners in San Francisco and, for good reason, a well-respected member of the community. Even if you aren’t inclined to read the book out of a personal interest in the gay issue, his compelling presentation of what “Church,” should look like is extraordinary, and worth the price of the book and the time to read it. I’ve attended a few services in his house church and have a couple close friendships with its members. The way they roll in terms of their commitment to relationships in Christ is extraordinary. In fact, a huge contributing factor in Tim’s decision to be celibate is the empowering (and not the least bit dictatorial) role that the church plays in his life. He calls the Church, “a community of blessing” – an apt description of their church in particular.
That said, though Tim’s brief and humble expositions of the key biblical texts on homosexuality have intellectual integrity, they may or may not convince you to change your view of them. Although, his love and respect for the Bible is as intense as my own, at least to date, he and I come to different conclusions about God’s view of homosexuality. But like I said, I don’t claim to already know with certainty more than I know that I know.
I’m particularly fond of his statement about how Christians view gays in the Body of Christ: “It’s not a battle to be won but an opportunity to grow.” If we brought that approach into all those things about which we have divergent opinions – faith, politics, and other moral issues – we might be the sort of compelling community that we’re supposed to be.
Speaking of “compelling,” that’s part of the title of the video that I want to recommend… But before I do, I can’t resist one quote of Tim’s: “Homosexuality is not in a special category of “badness” all its own. When I was attending Bible college, I sometimes saw graffiti on bathroom walls that said, “Bob is a fag!” I was tempted to write underneath it, “Bill is greedy!” But I wasn’t sure anyone would get the joke.”
I won’t go into detail about this free downloadable 90 minute documentary about Gays and the Church. It includes interviews from gays, gay haters, gay lovers (you know what I mean), pastors, and theologians. It poses neither theories nor pat answers, but does challenge people who claim to follow Jesus to display a love that compels instead of repels anyone and everyone to Jesus.
One more sample from Tim’s book:
“The question, ‘Is it okay to cross a street on a green light?’ is useful because the answer may help us avoid terrible accidents. But just because we can cross the street safely does not mean we know where we are going. Obeying all the rules won’t get us home. Asking, ‘how is God working for the good?’ does not focus on a single piece of knowledge, but on our overall direction: ‘Which way is home, and what will it look like when we get there?’ If we only focus on understanding the rules of the road, we will miss out on significant landmarks and obstacles and possibly never make it home.”
I’d love to hear what you think.