A CAREFUL VIEW OF SCRIPTURE with Regard to LGBT Questions
Empathy, Epiphany, and Fruit
There are three things we have not fully considered as we discuss biblical interpretation and determination of God's will. These three things are: empathy, epiphany, and fruit. I describe these in brief below.
Empathy: the action of understanding, being aware of, being sensitive to, and vicariously experiencing the feelings, thoughts, and experience of another of either the past or present without having the feelings, thoughts, and experience fully communicated in an objectively explicit manner; also : the capacity for this
Epiphany: (1) : a usually sudden manifestation or perception of the essential nature or meaning of something (2) : an intuitive grasp of reality through something (as an event) usually simple and striking (3) : an illuminating discovery, realization, or disclosure
Fruit: Observing what gifts, outflow, and evidences of God are at work in the life of an individual or group.
With anti-semitism the church ... after about 1900 years determined that its teaching of contempt against the Jewish people was wrong and did not reflect the love of Christ. Furthermore ... many churches apologized realizing that this teaching was one factor that supported the holocaust (the church's conclusion not just my opinion).
With slavery ... the church ...after 1800 years determined slavery was wrong ... it took a bit longer for civil rights to catch up. One could say that there were some in the church in the early centuries that did oppose slavery. However it took quite a while for that to result in a cultural change. Since churches split over this issue in the mid 1800's some could successfully claim that this change was more of a culture stimulated change rather than a church created change. As we noted ...for the church to change its mind .. it actually required going against what scripture seemed to proclaim as right and good. Granted ... some of the opposition to slavery was found in the passages that warned against cruel treatment of slaves but this alone did not bring the church to an ideal of equality. I would submit that the overriding factors that resulted in the change of position centered on empathy (realizing the plight of those who were enslaved), epiphany (realizing the humanity of those who were enslaved) and fruit (realizing that God cared about and worked with people of different races). These three factors led to a rethink and re-evaluation of the continuance of the practice of slavery and to the appreciation of civil rights. Further exploration of scripture revealed times when slavery was forbidden and the reality that God's grace to people was without partiality ... and since God was not making a distinction in how he treated people of different tribe and nation, why should we.
With divorce and remarriage ... we discovered that the church ... after about 1900 years changed its teachings and requirements in this area. This was not resolved without theological controversy. Scripture plainly says in the New Testament that divorce is not part of God's original plan and that since it is God ... not man .. that joins people together in marriage ... it could be surmised that God does not recognize man-made divorce. ... thus ... remarriage after divorce is called adultery by and according to Jesus. As with slavery ... a literal or more direct read of scripture seemed to clearly indicate no divorce and certainly no remarriage. So again .. the question is ... how did the church come to this decision. The answer has to do with the collective wisdom of the church. And again .... this followed the pattern of empathy (recognition that divorce was not always the fault of one individual), epiphany (recognizing that God still was working in the lives of those who had divorced and/or remarried), and fruit (recognition that God's calling and gifting were still active in the lives of those who had divorced and/or remarried). This led to a rethink of scripture with special attention to grace and justification (just as if one had not sinned) through the blood of Jesus Christ applied to divorce and remarriage.
In all of these situations it was empathy, epiphany, and fruit that led the way to the theological re-think and re-evaluation ... not the other way around. In other words the presence of these three things led to the rethink of scripture ... with some parts of scripture simply being over ridden (such as the bibles apparent affirmation of slavery) or overruled by an overarching principle of grace. This is an historically valid interpretation method of the church originally used to recognize the availability of the gospel to the Gentiles. Subsequently this method helped to foster the change of requirements for divorce/remarriage an recognition of those who had divorced and remarried as still belong to Christ and still deserving of membership into his church. The abolition of slavery and the establishment of civil rights for people of color were also a result of these three principles. And ... although I have not covered it here issues with women in ministry and women's equality took a similar path to change (though not in all denominations).
This brings us to the rather obvious question: Can the principles that were a key part in the church's change of position in these areas be applied to the question of gay relationships and gay marriage? If so this would be an alternative route to the affirmation of gay relationships and gay marriage. We will start with a comparison of the reasons for theological objections ... and after that compare reasons for theological agreement. We will then explore the path of empathy, epiphany, and fruit for further direction.
Arguments against gay marriage
Scripture speaks directly against gay sex and gay marriage
Our belief in heterosexual marriage exclusively is founded in the heart of what the scriptures teach from Genesis to Revelation and is a sacrament of the church. Thus it is special and should not be tampered with.
A plain unbiased read of scripture makes God's position on gay relationships and gay marriage irrefutable.
If the church declares gay marriage to be within God's will then we might as well throw out the bible as a source of guidance and truth
God has ordained that only heterosexual relationships be allowed under marriage.
If we allow gay marriage we will be on a slippery slope toward polygamy and other sexually immoral paths
Scripture speaks directly against remarriage after divorce ... never affirming it in the New Testament. But many denominations allow it.
Both slavery and remarriage were looked at as the heart of biblical teaching with slavery being declared "God ordained" per some anti-abolitionist preachers and speakers. Additionally remarriage .. which we allow but Jesus did not ... also is a sacrament of the church. Yet after 1800-1900 years we did choose to tamper with it.
A plain unbiased read of scripture made God's position on slavery and remarriage after divorce irrefutable as well ... but the church did indeed refute it.
These same claims were made against the abolitionists.
The church in the past has also believed that the inferiority of the black race was ordained by God. The church has also believed and some still believe that God has ordained that women should not be in leadership and are secondary to men.
Similar slippery slope arguments were raised in the past with regard to divorce/remarriage, abolition of slavery, and interracial marriage.
As the above point / counterpoint shows ... this is pretty much of a stale mate. The church unfortunately has a long history of rejecting / regarding differently people groups different than themselves going all the way back to the inclusion of the Gentiles and forward to include: Jewish people, people of color, people who have divorced, people of different genders,lgbt folks, and ... more recently ... Muslim people. I acknowledge that many church goers have different and kinder attitudes towards those people groups I have mentioned. However it is also true that the more outspoken parts of Christianity are what people hear. The position of silence ... is harder to hear. Whatever the outcome of the question the church is tackling regarding gay marriage and gay relationships it is rather clear that our treatment of this people group has been unloving and unChristlike. I wish our history showed a different trend but unfortunately ... it does not no matter which people group we are talking about.
So now lets look at the three things I mentioned ... empathy ... epiphany ... and fruit.
Empathy: I first gained real empathy and understanding of lgbt folks at the Pride Fest I had a booth at with my wife. We met real people. They came to our booth and filled out surveys that gave us their real journeys. That survey can be found here. This was a real eye opener for us in that we had never knowingly met lgbt folks before and heard their stories. I found their hurts to be real and their faith to be real as well.
Epiphany: I had originally gone to this Pride Fest to learn more about lgbt folks in response to God's call. I originally had the idea that I was part of a mission to share the gospel. But I realized that many I talked to already had the gospel. They already loved Jesus. And when I looked at what was going on in the demonstrations outside of the Pridefest ... I had to wonder why they continued to love Christ when Christ's followers were acting so poorly. These impressions continued as I found other ways to engage the gay community through on line ministry, Camp Outs, and conferences. I was double checking my observations and found that they did not change ... it was evident that the Holy Spirit was working in the lives of lgbt folks and the gifts and callings of the Spirit were clearly evident. Which brings us to fruit....
Fruit: As I said earlier ... fruit(s) are the gifts, outflow, and evidences of God that are at work in the life of an individual or group. Jesus tells us we will know His followers by their fruit. See Matthew 7:16-20...
16 By their fruits you will know them. Do you gather grapes from thorns, or figs from thistles? 17 Even so, every good tree produces good fruit; but the corrupt tree produces evil fruit. 18 A good tree can’t produce evil fruit, neither can a corrupt tree produce good fruit. 19 Every tree that doesn’t grow good fruit is cut down, and thrown into the fire. 20 Therefore by their fruits you will know them.
The fruits of the Spirit would include love, joy, peace, patience, goodness, faithfulness, and self control (from Galatians 5). Along with this list would be gifts and callings, ongoing maturity, and growth in Christ. As a pastor I see all of these things evident in the lives of lgbt folks including those that do not follow the traditional sexual ethic. Some might question the fruit of goodness. However ... if you look at the abomination page you will find an extensive list of things that conservative Christians are doing that are most certainly not good. So if you are a conservative straight Christian and are hoping to win the cultural fight for a conservative sex ethic be assured that you have likely already lost that battle due to these other voices. There is no white knight here ... except Christ. The fact of Romans 3:23 .. that all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God is very evident. In case this is not clear ... what the church determines as she moves into the future with regard to gay marriage is uncertain. What is certain is that lgbt folks have been woefully mistreated by those who call on Christ ... a fact that ... unfortunately has repeated itself with many people groups in our past.
Whichever way a denomination goes on this issue ... it is evident to me that God is at work in the hearts and minds of faithful lgbt folks whether they are celibate or affirming. I expect to see them in heaven. So the role of the church is either to extend grace to folks they feel are in the wrong or to change their viewpoint and extend affirmation. As with divisive issues of the past ... this is something for a church denomination to prayerfully consider and decide. I continue to respect the beliefs of my denomination in this area. But I also respect that other denomination's beliefs are different. As a minister of the gospel who has been called into this ministry by God I minister to all people, allowing God's Holy Spirit to direct each individual according to His good will and pleasure.
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