About a month ago, as a result of this blog, I got a text from an old friend who reached out to see if I she could connect me with the pastor of her church. Through my initial email exchange with the pastor, I learned that he had decided to host a class for his congregation to discuss none other than the infamous "issue" of homosexuality. Although I wasn't really sure what to expect, we decided to schedule time to meet up for coffee. As it turned out, our meeting was scheduled on the afternoon of the SCOTUS ruling on same-sex marriage—no doubt an Alanis-style irony. Don't you think?
That afternoon, we ended up talking for about two and a half hours. I asked to hear the reasons he decided to host a class for his congregation and he shared his personal passion for the issue as a whole. He explained that he holds a "learner's posture" surrounding the theology of this (more on that later). He asked to hear the journey I went on as I processed my sexuality for the past 8 years, and then we—together—reflected upon the immense challenge he was facing as a pastor who didn't affirm same-sex theology. This was one of those meetings where both parties walk away with a headache and 1000 more questions than we should have had. Frankly, it was an ideal coffee meeting for me; but let's be real, I'm a giant nerd.
Since our meeting, I keep coming back to reflect on the discussion we had. Since that point, I've had many more discussions with Christians surrounding this matter and not one of them has felt nearly as humble as this interaction was. In my meeting with this pastor, I truly saw a "learner's posture" in him. He didn't have to convince me that he was learning, I saw it firsthand in the tone and subject of our discussion. So, what exactly did I see in him that has been different than most?
He Valued My Story
The first thing this pastor asked me was quite possibly the most important question you could ask a person: What is your story? This pastor had read my blog, so he must have known my personal theology. For many people, it seems as if knowing my position is all that matters. It's as if a non-affirming Christian* discovers that I'm affirming of my sexuality and it's all they need to know about me to make their assumptions of my life. Thankfully, this pastor looked far deeper than my conclusion to genuinely understand why and how I got to my conclusion.
He Valued Research and Understanding
Throughout our meeting, it was evident that this pastor understood what we were talking about. Beyond a simple ability to recite Bible verses and articles that condemn homosexuality, he was able to communicate the depth of his research in our conversation. Prior to meeting with me, this pastor had done a ton of reading on the many aspects of same-sex theology and gay people as a whole. Not only did he tell me this initially, it was evident throughout our conversation. It was clear that he was familiar with my conclusion, but also the reasonings that surround my conclusion. Because he had this understanding, we were able to have a deeper, more meaningful conversation about the implications of our theologies rather than the conclusions themselves.
He Valued My Viewpoint
This was probably the most humble thing I saw in this pastor—his learner's posture. This man wasn't afraid to realize that his view isn't the only one in existence. He acknowledged my theological conclusion and was willing to examine its implications further. It takes a lot of character to avoid viewing alternatives as threats. It helped me understand that viewing alternate viewpoints as threats shortchanges us and instantly eliminates the chance for us to:
- ...strengthen our current viewpoint by learning from dissenting viewpoints
- ...learn the story of others' lives and how they reached conclusions different than our own
This pastor modeled a graceful open-mindedness that didn't threaten or devalue his own personal conclusions. How could I not desire this attitude for myself?
He Valued Discussion Over Certainty
At the outset of our meeting, he put his cards out on the table that his mind could actually change on this—that he didn't have it all figured out. It would be one thing for him to acknowledge that his viewpoint isn't the only one in existence, but it was more significant that he wanted to press into this fact. The former seems to be human nature: we see resistance to our current understanding of the world and we avoid examining it out of fear that it may force us to overhaul or question our views.
Some would be perfectly content to remain intellectually stagnant throughout life. Although, I'm not sure I'd want to witness someone admit to this complacency. Beyond the mere fact that avoiding challenge makes us suffer on a cognitive level, I question if this avoidance hurts us a bit deeper. I wonder if, by shutting ourselves off ideologically, we also risk shutting God out of our ideas as well. This pastor has a high enough view of God's guidance that he can challenge his ideology with courage and grace, not avoidance.
He Valued The Implications of His Theology
Finally, this pastor wasn't passive about this issue's importance. Not only did he desire to explore the ideas surrounding the matter, he was actually wrestling with it. In our time together, it was clear that he could not come to a hard-nosed conclusion that didn't treat people with the love Christ had given. Instead, in the midst of our discussion of theology, I could see him actively wrestle with the potential implications of his theology and mine. At one point in the conversation, I looked at him and, in a joking laughter, exclaimed: "Dude! This has got to be the most challenging situation for a pastor to be in! I'm so glad I don't have your job anymore!"
See, this pastor understands that, for him to maintain any theological position, there are going to be actions required of him. He is going to have to live his theology out in practice. While he holds a non-affirming* theology for the acceptance of same-sex relationships in the Church, he realizes that he needs to be able to actively live this theology out through the lens of Christ. Thankfully, it seems he understands that he cannot "Hate the sin and love the sinner" in this matter. I get the sense that he won't accept any ideology that denies him the ability to love people fully and truly—and there is no room for "just because" in that posture.
In a matter of two and a half hours, this pastor was able to connect on a level that allowed for real discussion and dialogue, not debate. Debate was nowhere in his heart and it allowed for all threat and defense to come down. I desperately hope to see this type of humble discourse flourish in the Church and in the gay community alike.
*Non-affirming Christian (aka Side B) are those that do not affirm the theological viability of same-sex relationships in the Church.