Over the past couple of weeks, I’ve had the opportunity to attend a series of formalized debates over gay-affirming theology hosted by a local church. My and my partner’s decision to attend these events was founded on a sort of nervous inquisition. We were curious to see if a church of Christ-following people—people who we originally thought were majorly non-affirming of gay theology—could actually have a civil discourse on this matter. I’m a bit ashamed to admit that I was highly skeptical, because I’ve not seen it done well so far.
Running late to the event, I assumed we would be slipping into the back of a small classroom filled with maybe 10-20 people listening to a presenter. To my shock, I grossly underestimated this scenario. We arrived to the church and peered in the side door of a multi-purpose gymnasium. I looked in and saw 250-300 individuals seated in the room. More shockingly, most were over the age of 50! I looked at my partner and said, “Old people actually care about this issue?!” I’m pretty sure my mother will call me after reading that sentence.
As we surveyed the sea of people, I immediately became filled with anxiety. No seats were available, except for a small cut out near the very front of the gymnasium. I was convinced that we were: 1) The youngest people there and 2) the only gay people in attendance. Fortunately, my partner took the lead and confidently marched across the expanse of chairs to find our seat near the front of the audience.
Over the course of the next two hours, I witnessed one of the most humbling experiences of my time in ministry. Two presenters, theologians and PhD’s from reputable institutions presented why they were either “in favor” or not “in favor” of gay-affirming theology.
Witnessing the debate series made me ask the question: Why is this discussion important in any way to people other than me, a gay guy? Why is this conversation, one that's known to piss people off, one that's known to scare people, and one that even risks alienating people from each other, really a worthwhile dialog?
I have a couple of ideas.
The debate allows the Church to address sexuality as a whole.
During one of the presentations, the speaker at hand said something to the church that profoundly shook people. She sternly said, “If you church has never talked about sexuality, it has no right to talk about homosexuality.”
Her theory was profound to me. Until we, as the Church begin to examine what honest, non-extremist Christian sexuality looks like; what business do we have trying to figure out issues of our sexual minorities?
This issue of gay theology is helping us recognize that we don’t have profound strength in talking about sexuality in any capacity. Personally, I’ve not ever seen issues such as divorce, porn, and sex before or in marriage tackled from a pulpit. The questions of gay theology can encourage us to understand what God-designed sexuality should look like. When we establish this, we can then build a framework to understand the important matters that concern us LGBT individuals.
It allows the gay community to acknowledge Christian sexual ethics as a possibility for their sexual expression.
Gay-theological discussion offers something profound to the gay community as much as it does to the Christian community. The discussion provides, yet another, option for sexual expression to gays. Without arguing my personal opinion on Christian sexual ethics, I find it fascinating that Christians, as they move closer to the gay community, have something valuable to offer the gay community—a new way to consider sexuality.
Historically, Christians have offered the gay community condemnation and essentially, damnation (feel free to argue with me on that). However, many Christians—on all sides of theology— are starting to realize that the gay community desperately deserves more from those who claim to follow Christ. It’s becoming clearer to Christians that gay individuals deserve the same exact grace and love that God has given them.
With this grace, comes a new sexual ethic that can be modeled by gay individuals. That is, an ethic that places full, relational self-sacrifice above all other desires between two individuals. That is, a sex ethic that embodies the true heart of God’s sacrificial love for His people. That’s right, Christians actually have something to offer gay people no matter where they stand theologically!
It helps us to find grace in tension.
Finally, and most comforting to me, this debate will probably not come to a rest (just like most theological dilemmas). I’m sure most people read this and want to punch me for saying it. See, this lack of resolve presents Christians and gay people alike the opportunity to find love and grace for each other amidst theological dissent.
This tension compels all of us to sort out what is paramount to our faith—Christ. For Christians, the open-ended tension gives us the opportunity to love each other well even though we don’t think identically. It gives us the diversity needed to foster a Church that truly thinks and talks among itself in healthy ways.
For all communities, the persisting tension compels us to engage in a civil conversation that’s founded upon genuine love for one another, as opposed to that which is founded upon threat or fear.
In each presenter’s conclusion at the debates we attended, the crowd erupted in to applause. In the midst of each debate, respect and mutual love was what drove each presenter’s position. It was evident that neither party felt threatened or frustrated by the conclusions of their peers.
During the breaks, my partner and I talked with congregants of the church. It didn’t take long to find out that this church had a large population of both people who supported and those who didn’t support gay theology. More surprising, the congregants felt unafraid to admit their position on the matter to their fellow Christians. In all facets of this debate series both positions received genuine respect and consideration! It seems like this church is on to something. It seems like they’re growing together.
Perhaps you aren’t gay or perhaps you don’t stay awake at night thinking about LGBT inclusion—I assure you, this conversation still matters to you. This conversation matters because sexuality is important to everyone, people deeply matter no matter what gender they're attracted to, and grace in God’s kingdom is absolutely unrelenting.