Sharing in Faith: Listening across the divide
I realized a long time ago that my feelings and opinions about sexuality issues don't have that much to do with sexual minorities at all.
I came to Christ in the context of holiness revivalism, and I am thankful for the path to which my early mentor in the faith pointed me. Scripture and prayer have been vitally important ever since then, in the development and growth of my faith.
And I am reminded that I am still a traditionalist on sexuality issues at various times. Back in the days when I regularly counseled young couples preparing for marriage, I was continually reminded that I was a traditionalist on gay and lesbian issues — even though those issues never came up in our discussion. Gay marriage doesn’t fit in my paradigm. I interpret marriage from a theological standpoint. Discarding the notion that Jesus’ teaching on marriage and divorce points Christians toward a heterosexual, monogamous standard for sexual behavior would leave me with nothing to say.
That's not to say that I've successfully thought through all the issues here. I'm not sure anyone has. I read the writings of people on the revisionist side of the issue and generally do not find their arguments either helpful or convincing — though the arguments are getting better. It is always possible that this is because I am extremely stupid. I've met some gay and lesbian and transgender people and I like most of them. So there is no personal animus on my part — nor any personal history with same-gender sex.
But at some point, I got to wondering about this issue in a very personal way. I had been involved in heated arguments about this. And I came into the arguments knowing I was right. But for me it was a theoretical issue. It was a personal-morality issue. It became for me a boundary issue — people who did not feel same-gender sex was a sin (or, worse yet, said the Bible did not condemn it — an obvious and demonstrable fallacy) were simply not worth talking to.
And yet, I wondered why I got so upset about this. It was not a personal issue for me. I didn't get so upset about the discussion of other moral issues. So what was there in this that aroused my anger and defensiveness? Some gay Christians on the Internet engaged me in conversation and I found the conversation enriching. I heard a whole other side of the issue that I had not imagined. I found that I was quite wrong about who is worth talking to!
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Changed by the conversation
In July of 2003, I joined the conversation at a (now defunct) website called Bridges Across the Divide. (The web site is archived here.) The bridging conversation that was going on there seemed amazing to me — such respectful conversations in the midst of such sharp disagreements! (By the way, Justin Lee briefly describes his involvement with these discussions in his book “Torn: Rescuing the Gospel from the Gays-vs.-Christians Debate.”)
For me the issue was originally theoretical. It was: What the Bible says. I encountered very little in these conversations that caused me to change my mind about that.
What I encountered was the personal dimensions of the issue. I was not sexually attracted to people of my own sex. I didn’t know what that was like. I hadn’t gone through the deep inner conflict these people spoke about — the conflict between a drive they did not choose and could not change and their position as persons of worth in the Body of Christ. In some cases, they were very angry.
And it began to impress me that these people — in spite of their anger — were willing to speak to me. We became friends.
So the conversation changed me. It created conflict within me. It helped me to see some of the deficiencies of my position. It helped me see how little I really know.
Time to commit
As I looked across the Divide, I saw brothers and sisters and friends on the other side whose presence and experiences became valuable to me.
I realize that many people feel that dialogue is one more attempt at indoctrination. I even understand that. I have experienced that too. But I know from personal experience that we desperately need open-hearted communication on the issues of sexuality if we are going to be able to minister to anyone in this world today. We need to understand one another's struggles and insights and perspectives. We need to allow ourselves to be stretched.
I have not changed my mind. Maybe some day I will. Or maybe some day we will all come to understand a lot of things we don't understand now. But until then, I want the love of God to stretch me across the otherwise-unbridgeable gap to my brothers and sisters on the other side. It is time for us to commit to understanding and listening.
The Rev. Craig L. Adams
Posted July 22, 2014