Sunday, January 14, 2007

"Gay Rights" and the church

Our church, like many institutions, has been struggling with the question of what to do about openly gay congregants.

There are a lot of principles which seem to come into conflict with each other. Let me start this by saying that when God isn't black-and-white about something it probably means that we are supposed to live in the tension between principles and work out for ourselves where the boundaries are.

As more information comes available, the boundaries may move because our understanding of what causes certain things changes.

Here are some main theological points.
  • We are all victims of the fall of man, which separates us from God.
  • Everyone should have a chance to get to know God.
  • Sin is sin, and all sins are equal in God's eyes, albeit not in man's eyes.
  • Sexual fallenness and sexual sins are the hardest to talk about, and are described by the apostle Paul as being sins against the body, the temple of the Lord.
  • Marriage in a church is a church sacrament with scripturally defined rules.

And here are some political points.
  • The gay lobby has been the most successful and well-organized of any lobby, given the actual numbers of gay people in the population (no more than 4% of either gender).
  • No one likes to be "powered" by a well-organized lobby advocating for something that most find distasteful or offensive.
  • The angriest person in the room should not by default get their way simply because they are the angriest.

And some medical points.
  • Gays have health problems due to their choices about promiscuity, not due to their gayness.
  • AIDS is spread by behavioural choices, yet AIDS gets far more funding than diseases (eg breast cancer) which are a greater threat to the public health.
All of these taken together have me re-evaluating my position on whether gay people should have positions of authority in a church.

If we want someone to not be promiscuous, surely encouraging them to have a committed relationship is a good thing. If we reserve the word "marriage" for a man and a woman, then some other term for a same-sex union ought to be adopted. And we should encourage this union at least for public health reasons if nothing else.

As for church council members, what are we to do with people who would be on church council in spite of the fact that they are not presently married. They may be divorced for very good reasons. They may be living common-law, recognized by the government as the equivalent of married, even if they haven't been 'churched'. The sins they commit are equal to the sins committed by the married member of council who jumps over to some porn site or other from time to time, or who cheats on his income taxes, or who swears.

One older woman at our church described the struggle the church had 60 years ago, with whether to admit her father as a member. Not only was he Chinese, he smoked...AND he went to movies! Times change, and seeing these old conflicts through today's eyes reminds us that morality lives in context of the times, even while being rooted in scriptural principles.

So at this point my position seems to be changing. I would now come down as favoring a position of allowing gay people in a committed relationship to assume responsible positions in my church, eg Sunday School teachers or council members. I am against calling their relationships "marriages", but a blessing upon their union is desirable. I am against any political campaigning that homosexuality is desirable, but it needs to be seen as biologically influenced rather than purely a lifestyle choice.

This is more than an academic question. We recently had a gay member of our church offer to run for Council. It wasn't allowed. Now our church is in the throes of debating gay issues, and people on both sides of the question are leaving the church because they feel the wrong side is prevailing.

Sexuality should not be the litmus test for a person's spiritual bona fides. The desire to know God and to do his will is built into all of us, and due to our fallen nature all of us are going to fail in this mission, and fail often.

At the same time a politically organized group representing fewer than 4% of us should not be able to overturn societal institutions such as marriage and parental role models of both genders by driving everything to the lowest common denominator. I'm willing to move the boundary, but not abandon it to people whose political agenda has overwhelmed what's right for our society as a whole.

Yikes. I never thought I'd be writing this....


Kobayashi Maru said...

Keep writing, Halfwise!! Yours is a reasonable, honest and rare position of public discernment on this issue. Sadly, there is little middle ground to stand on between the two extremes. One says (for example) that gluttony is to be entirely ignored, but that any hint of homosexual tendencies (regardless of how/whether someone is acting on them) are to be shunned. The other says: marriage and in-your-face gay pride parades or else! (ignoring that pride itself is a sin).

We had a 'debate' in my former (liberal) church about whether to put rainbow stickers on our lawn sign and feature an "open and affirming" statement in our brochure. Nowhere in that 'debate' was there any room for discussion (without being ostracized oneself) for keeping the 'open' part and dropping the 'affirming', or for the opinion that NO group identity symbols should grace our sign or our literature other than the one we share: the cross of Christ.

Sadly, it is the extremism of the activists who empower the extreme reactionaries and vice versa.

What did our God intend? (A uniquely personal God in the sweep of religious history.) Among other things, that we be treated as persons and not as groups, and held accountable for our heart as much as for our outward behavior. Anyone who looks carefully at the Sodom and Gomorrah story for example, will see that God was unwilling to smote the place if there were still righteous people in it... which did not mean that he was giving license to the unrighteousness there.

I'll stop there. Keep praying and discerning!

Halfwise said...

Thank you for the encouragement, KM.

The sin of pride vs the virtue of humility underlies every clash of strongly held beliefs.

May we learn more about listening; we are already well-versed in jumping to judgements.