Beth Keck has asked for our comments in response to a series of letters she posted. I suggest you read them to clarify the context within which I write this post. There are certain topics that remain taboo within the Christian circle. Homosexuality is a big one. (Perhaps the biggest one.) This post is a long one, and I thought it best to leave it here rather than in Beth's comments.
As you may know, my husband is from an extremely conservative upbringing in Iowa. He left Iowa for the Marine Corps, and left the Marine Corps (well, they never really do leave the Marine Corps...) when we were married. He had no contact in his pre-adult life with people who were Jewish, Black, Hispanic, or Gay (at least none that he knew of). He and my sister would battle over this topic. "There are no Gay people in Iowa, " he'd claim. "Bigot!" she'd retort.
On the other hand, my extra-curricular pre-adult life was immersed in music and theatre, and I was surrounded by gay men from the time I was about 14. I was an early developed pre-teen and was treated as a sexual being by heterosexual men from the time I was about 10 or 11. I began developing breasts in the 4th grade and men didn't look me in the eye again until I was an adult. If you think I was too young to notice, by the way, think again. I knew. I am every day grateful for my daughter's 60 lb. 10 year old frame. (Every year I thank God that He's given her this gift.) The homosexual community represented a world of safe men who would listen to what I had to say without constantly being distracted by the mammary glands. (And they weren't even that big). The first gay women I was aware of I met in college. I admit that gay women made me feel uncomfortable the same way heterosexual men did.
Over time, I have become more conservative about my opinions. My husband has become more liberal. After all, two are becoming one. We are both better able to appreciate some of the more complicated gray areas in this issue. I must add here that I am more conservative about all of my opinions. I am very conservative about drugs, premarital sex, underage drinking -- I know that my commitment to Christianity has changed my ideology a lot since my college days, but so has motherhood. I also have to believe that time and experience have tempered my point of view as well. I have learned certain truths from unfortunate experiences born of bad choices. Wisdom doesn't happen overnight.
Now that all of these factors are laid on the table, I will comment on Beth's letters. This above all other issues we face today makes me see the pit of hypocrisy in which I wallow. First of all, I struggle with the same questions that the writer asks here. Although I love Tom Wright's answers, I still see that the church does seem to tolerate some sins more than others. Divorce is rampant. Pre-marital sex is completely common place. Abortion is as common among Christians as it is outside of the church. In all of these areas I hear the church denouncing the sin yet managing somehow to love the sinner. This is simply not so when it comes to homosexuality. The church cannot seem to bring itself to love these sinners. Why?
We are in a day and age where everyone has a horn to blow. Everyone is militant about something. It makes me sick. We have militant atheists, militant feminists, the militant black communities, militant Jewish groups, militant environmentalists, militant anti-abortionists, militant pro-abortionists, militant creationists, militant evolutionists, militant home-schoolers, militant public schoolers, militant working moms, militant stay at home moms, militant homosexuals, militant anti-homosexuals, militant militants. This isn't just about freedom of speech anymore. The militant Muslim community has taken it upon themselves to eradicate the world from the American infidels. How many other militant groups would stop at nothing to make their point? I have to say that when someone forces me to hear their point of view and then insists I must agree to this point of view, I tend to run in the other direction. When does your right to be heard interfere with my right to peace and quiet? My right to make up my own mind? To think for myself? These militant communities do not make us more understanding of these issues, but rather more intolerant.
I agree with what Beth said: "When some one comes into your gathering - they need to go with codes of your
gathering ...Seminary grads - or Harvard professors or WalMart cashiers - does not matter ... They are coming to your group voluntarily - they should , out of respect for the rest of the group - go by the bylaws of your group... If they desire to change the "policy" of the group, then they would need to do so by the appropriate channels." I find it to be offensive when someone of any persuasion tries to apply a personal agenda to an otherwise neutral situation: I don't like conservative Christians that complain about non-Christian themes being discussed in a public school; I don't like militant homosexuals that demand admittance into groups like the Boy Scouts (although I also don't like the exclusion of someone who is suspected of being homosexual -- sexual behavior or discussion of any kind is simply inappropriate in the context of Boy Scouts); I don't like militant Jewish groups that protest Christmas songs at the Holiday Concert; I don't like militant atheist groups that protest the use of the word 'god' in public and historical oaths and creeds.
My husband has learned to stop judging homosexual people from experience. Relationship. The church couldn't teach him that (the one we went to wouldn't teach him that, nor the one he grew up in.) He worked at a hospital as a security guard on the night shift (part time as a supplemental income when we were first married.) He helped hold down junkies who were having bad trips so that the nurses could sedate them; he sometimes held down trauma victims for the same reason. He brought bodies to the morgue. He watched the ER doctor save life after life. That same ER doctor took care of us when we were without medical coverage and needed help (on three occasions over the years...) incidentally, he was a gay man who treated my husband, the ex-marine without a college degree, with more dignity and respect than most of the non-military people in this area could muster. It seems that people who are judged harshly learn to look inside before they make a decision about a person. I think that is how my husband has learned this, too. The Doc relied heavily on God to help him through every case that came through the door. He had reconciled his life choices with God. His strengths, his weaknesses. "People look on the outside of the person, but the Lord looks at the heart". He who is without sin should cast that first stone, I say. (Hypocrite! you yell. You're right. Read on.)
Shortly after meeting the Doc, we lived across the street from a homosexual couple.
Turns out over time that this couple has been more consistenly loving and supportive of our family than the majority of heterosexual people we befriended in the church. Interestingly, my husband, (previously an extreme homophobic) had a lot of difficulty making friends in my church of choice. (He doesn't operate in the gifts of the Holy Spirit, and tends to be suspicious of people who say they do. He allows people to grow on him over time, but his trust and respect are always earned the hard way.) His distance from the Christian group resulted (results) in rejection -- resoundingly. Our neighbors, on the other hand, managed to meet him where he was at. They'd ask his advice on home improvement projects, they'd talk football scores and hockey games -- they became over time some of our best friends. Without hesitation, I would leave my kids with them -- and have. We have prayed with this couple when their house burnt to the ground as we all stood and watched. We have listened sadly as they spoke of their difficulty in finding a church where they could worship. They have cared for us in practical ways: brought ice pops and juice when I was home sick with small children, watched our kids and sent us on much needed dates, cared for our pets when we were on vacation. Helped cut down trees and put up fences. My husband once said to me, "I think they are our best and most reliable friends. The nicest couple we know." I think that must be God. God made the unlikely happen for my husband. He could see beyond the outside to the people who were within.
And here is the thing that bugs me (the thing that shines a light on my hypocrisy). Our neighbors were so discreet about their life choices, it made it so easy for us to see them as people first. They never engaged in "Public displays of affection". They weren't militant about the rights of lesbians. They were incredibly respectful of our family and believed in preserving the innocence of our children. (They didn't really want them to know -- and neither did I.) They kind of felt like, "why would they need to know?" -- and that was very comfortable for me. They knew I believed that God loved them. They knew that I believed that I was as big a sinner (if not bigger) than they. They know that I was sad about the way the church seemed to handle the issue of homosexuality. When they moved away, we were heartbroken. Our friends were gone. We tried to keep in touch (as we do with many who move away). I'm sure that it was easier for us to accept their lifestyle when it wasn't "shoved down our throats" as I've heard it said. I'm sure they said the same of us. "They were lovable, despite their affiliation with Christianity". They talked of marriage once. Privately, my husband and I talked at length about what we would do if they married. Would we bring the kids? Yikes. This is where my whole facade falls apart. I had a hard time reconciling this. My kids didn't know they were gay. (Or did they....?)
I have taught my kids that ANY sexual relationship outside of marriage is wrong. I have told them that there will be many issues that will come up in the course of their childhoods that will surprise, even shock them. People they know will be found doing drugs. These people may even offer these drugs to them (it happened to me -- even teachers offered.) People they have known for years would make choices that will shock them. They might do drugs, they might have sex. It doesn't make what they do okay. Nor does it make them any less lovable -- in fact, these people will need more love than ever. But we will need to stand firm in our convictions. Our adherence to our beliefs and our code will create a safe haven for those who fall. In fact, NOT making these choices may sometimes feel like a sacrifice to us. All we can do is pray. Pray for our friends who fall, pray for our selves to stand firm. We are called to love the sinner and hate the sin. We cannot expect the world to live according to our standards: we can barely live up to them ourselves. I certainly haven't, but it doesn't stop me from trying to be the best I can be in Christ.
Do I condone drug use? No. But we know people who use drugs. We're related to some of them. Do I condone pre-marital sex? No. But even I did not live according to this code. I fell even after committing my life to Christ. So did my husband. I wish I didn't, but it wasn't as easy as I thought. Do I condone gossip? No, but I engage in it (and I usually feel awful when I do -- but not always). Do I condone divorce? No. But I can't tell you how many divorced families we know and love. (and there before the grace of God go we...) Do I condone homosexuality? No. But would I go to our friend's wedding if invited? Yes. I would. Would I bring the kids? No, I don't think I could have. They spared us the decision, by the way. They married without us. (Was it something in our faces when they "casually" brought it up?) And now, 2 years later, the good old TV has broken that boundary for me with my kids. The whole Gay marriage issue has blasted its way into our living room. Every news trailer opened with another gay couple saying "I do" and kissing the "bride". My kids have asked and now I have to answer. I tell them I don't know why people do the things they do. We all sin. I know I love a lot of people who happen to be homosexual. I believe God loves them, too. Do I want my kids to make that choice in their life? No. I don't think there is anything gray about it.
My son goes to a very popular local youth group. There are terrible rumors of blow jobs in the parking lot, drugs in the bathrooms, Jr. Hi kids running amok. I was afraid to let my son go. I observed the parking lot myself. I spoke to the pastor. I discussed the rumors with my son. Finally, I let him go. On his first night there, he ran into an acquaintance from school and sports. This boy is an "at risk" kid who lives without boundaries, a very fast life. He is a boy of endless possibility, both positive and negative in scope. The Christian in my heart jumped up and thought "Praise God! He was at Youth Group! God is moving!" The mother in my heart jumped up and thought "Oh shit! If HE was at this youth group, the rumors must be true! My son cannot be safe if HE is there!" I told my son both of these thoughts. He laughed, then prayed with me for this boy. Me of little faith. Hypocrite, through and through.
I relate to Paul's words: "I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For what I do is not the good I want to do: no, the evil I do not want to do -- this I keep on doing." (Romans 7:18-20)
Help us, Lord, to be a safe haven. Help us to be a blessing to the people you send our way. Help us to extend your love to all people. Help us not to see the splinter in our neighbor's eye, but to first remove the board in our own. Help us to bring honor to your name. Help us to raise our children to be people of faith. May the students be greater than their teachers. Protect and defend us Lord. You're our only hope.
In the end, I feel the older I get, the less I know. I have found that people change over time in expected and unexpected ways. I learn every day that my children are smarter and stronger than I know. And as time goes by, I see that God is bigger than I can imagine, and I am growing smaller every day.