I started writing this post a long time ago, as this issue has floated around in my mind for years. The decision of the Supreme Court prompted me to edit it once again and post it today.
I am confident that there will be disagreement on this issue, as there has been for decades in America. My intention is not to inflame the argument, but propose that we can change the tone of the conversation altogether. I welcome comments and dialogue in agreement or disagreement. This is not a sermon, it’s the start of a conversation. However, inflammatory remarks, hate-speech, or bigotry (towards gay people or Christians) will not only not get your commented posted but will also get you labelled as spam. There are lots of places online where you can be a jerk. This ain’t one of ’em.
There’s a scene in season 2 of Will & Grace (you know, that show in the late 90s that got everyone all riled up about the pending homosexual takeover of the world) where a cop/security guard asks Will how to know if someone is “a gay.” After a brief exchange where the cop shyly gives vague yet complimentary details about a “certain man” he knows, Will walks away while coyly saying, “Yeah…I’d say someone is gay.” The audience laughs as the cop kinda-sorta checks Will out as he walks out the door. As it turns out, the “friend” the cop had asked about is himself. Or so it seems.
Or maybe not. We can’t be sure.
In this brief exchange, one of the points of Will & Grace is driven home. There are lots of gay people in the world, and they might just be us. Either way, the time for not talking about it is over. We need to just accept that we/they/he/she may just be “a gay.” Or so the show not-very-humorously (in my opinion) suggests.
Westboro Baptist Church is famous for picketing soldier funerals and other events as a way of communicating that “God Hates Fags.” In fact, their website is http://www.godhatesfags.com. If you visit that site (and I don’t recommend that you do if you’ve eaten recently), you’ll find they have some sister sites, too. The list includes http://www.godhatesislam.com, http://www.godhatesthemedia.com, and http://www.godhatestheworld.com. Located in Topeka, Kansas, Westboro has become an icon of hate in America. Disavowed by most Christians, they stand (almost) alone in their hate-filled message where they preach more about what they’re against than what they’re for.
On their website, they gloat that God has killed over 6600 soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan, that they have conducted over 50,000 protests, and that the members of their church have “lost 0 nanoseconds of sleep over your opinions and feeeeelllllllings.”
I have to confess that I have never watched an episode of Will and Grace in my life. I also need to confess that I have never attended Westboro Baptist Church and, if I’m honest, think it’s a stretch to call that gathering of individuals a church in the Biblical sense of the term.
As a dude who works in a church at a time when the Church universal is torn over how to reach the homosexual community without abandoning long-held biblical convictions, there are a few observations I would like to make. Wherever you are on the Will & Grace/Westboro spectrum, I think these things will make sense and can be things we all agree on.
Either that, or everyone will hate my guts upon reading the rest of this blog post.
1. The Church Should Not Completely Shut Out the Homosexual Community
To be fair, most churches are not as hate-filled and bigoted as WBC. This is a good thing. By the same token, most churches are in the camp of being unwelcoming, stand-offish, and condemning toward the gay crowd, even if on accident.
Most congregation’s leaders have not discussed what they would do if a gay couple visited. Which means they haven’t talked about it with their church family. Which means the church is left to think whatever they want to think. Which means the leaders aren’t–well, you know…leading.
Like the security guard on the sitcom, most church leaders are afraid to have an honest discussion about homosexuality. It’s too controversial. We might run people off. If we permit gay couples to attend our church, we struggle with feeling like we are approving of their behavior, which the Bible preaches against.
The problem is (and I’m proud to say I serve a church that has thought through these things) we don’t apply that with any other sinful behavior that exists in our congregations. If a drunk wants to attend, they’re welcome. If a couple gets a divorce and remarries, we don’t shoo them away. Why is it that we put an invisible sign on the front door that says, “We Love Everyone! (except gay folks)”
Do we believe the church exists to introduce people to Jesus? Do we believe Jesus can change hearts, no matter what shape they’re in? Do we think that some folks are off limits to the Gospel? The church’s answer to these questions should influence how we treat all people, not just some.
2. The Church Should Live in the Tension
I don’t think the church fixes people. I think the church is for everyone. I think Jesus is for everyone. And I think Jesus fixes people. All sorts of broken people. Like, you know, me. Do I believe living a life of homosexual behavior is biblical? No, I do not. But I also don’t think it’s the job of the church to hate. I don’t think it’s the job of the church to exclude. And I don’t think it’s the job of the church to fix. I think that’s Jesus’ job. And I believe he can do it. The gay community doesn’t like it much, but there are lots of testimonies of people who did not want to live a homosexual lifestyle who, by God’s grace, are no longer.
Bottom line: I think you can disagree without discriminating. And church folk, hesitate before you jump on the “Yeah, but every time I say ‘I disagree’ they play the ‘intolerant’ card!” Realize there has been decades of hate spewed forth from the church on this issue, so cut the homosexual community some slack. it’s kind of like you growing up assuming Muslims hate your guts just because you live in America. It will take decades of loving reactions to correct the fear and anger induced by decades of hate.
Is it a tension to reside between loving everyone and permitting behavior? Sure. But I think it’s a tension we should live in. And I don’t think many Christians choose to do so. It’s easier to be completely permissive or absolutely closed off. Let me say that again: it’s easier to be completely permissive or absolutely closed off. We can be Rob Bell or we can be Westboro. But in choosing either of those courses of actions, we miss opportunities for Jesus to do his good work.
3. The Church Should Do What Only the Church Can Do
The front lines of the homosexual debate are currently located in voting booths and court rooms all over the country as the marriage equality discussion is held nationwide. As of this writing, 11 states have legalized gay marriage. Undoubtedly, more will follow. Eleven countries have nation-wide legal gay marriage. Dozens more (like the U.S.) allow it in certain regions. The Supreme Court has ruled that the federal government can make no law banning same-sex marriage, and states are one by one going to make legislations of their own on this issue. Allow me to say something that some may not want to hear:
Gay marriage is going to be legal in most, if not all, of the United States of America before most of you reading this are dead. For some, this strikes fear in your heart. But there have been a lot of things that have happened in the good old U.S. of A. that has struck fear in the collective heart of the church. And yet the Gospel of Jesus Christ is alive and well, in the United States and all over the world.
If I am completely honest, I do not fear the advancement of marriage equality in America. In fact, part of me wishes we’d just get over the fighting so we can change the tone of the conversation. That’s really my point.
As it is now, the reason it’s so hard for the church to relate to the homosexual community is because we are most known for it’s political opposition of marriage equality. When we say, “I do not support homosexual behavior,” most gay folks hear “We hate you,” because they don’t understand why they don’t have the same legal rights as heterosexuals, and why we are standing so firmly against it.
We live in America. You can have an opinion on anything. You can speak up about your opinion on anything. You can vote however you want. But on this point, I feel like politics aren’t the best venue to have this conversation. It’s too loaded. Let’s move this conversation within the confines of the church, and do what the church does best–introduce people to Jesus and let Him convict individuals of sin. That goes for those who practice homosexuality (1 Timothy 1:10) and whatever else is contrary to sound doctrine (same verse).
Let me repeat myself plainly. This is a controversial issue and I want to be clear: I believe the Bible teaches that homosexual behavior is wrong. Since I claim to love and serve Jesus, the Bible is the authority of my life. I have people in my life I consider friends who are gay. But I don’t get to say, “Nah, no worries…you’re good,” with them because they’re my friend any more than I get to say, “it’s okay, I’m born with the tendency to lust after women, so God understands when I cheat on my wife in my mind.” That’s not how it works. Jesus is either in charge or he’s not. I want him to be in charge of my life, my beliefs, and my life.
It is because he’s in charge that I pose the following questions. These truly are questions I wrestle with, not conclusions I’ve drawn. I invite you to wrestle, too, even if that means challenging long-held personal assumptions.
- Have you ever met a gay person and really heard their story?
- Have you ever tried to understand their viewpoint like you would any other person?
- Is your view of homosexuality more influenced by zeal for a political position or by the Scriptures? That is, all the Scriptures, not just those that declare homosexuality to be wrong (of which there are fewer than a dozen, even if one counts liberally)
- Is it possible for the church to change the conversation with the gay community? If legal marriage rights were extended to homosexuals would the church, in effect, be able to remove a huge obstacle and begin to converse with homosexuals about faith without the political division being the main talking point?
- In public do you condemn Westboro’s actions but in private silently agree?
- If you are gay, do you hate all Christians with the same kind of hate you accuse them of? Do you lump them together as one voice? Should you?
If Will and Grace were to really go to Westboro Baptist Church, it’d be a mess. There would be signs, shouting, shoving, and certainly police intervention. News stations would cover the fallout. It would be a disaster. However, to this point in our nation’s history (and, more specifically, in the narrative of the church), the consequences of our collective action have not been much better. There’s very little civil dialogue. Misunderstanding reigns. Both sides (I regret that they are still understood as such) are stand-offish and hold false assumptions about the other, resulting in distance and cynicism.
We live in a world where we have Will and Grace and Westboro Baptist and every other viewpoint in between. I’m not so naive as to think that this will change any time soon. However, I do believe that the church has a unique opportunity to change the tone of the conversation.
This is an opportunity that the church is long overdue to seize.