“There’s no way you’re going to beat me, Jim. I’m superior tonight. Just face it.”
Jim rolled his eyes and slid his chair back to his cubicle.
“Whatever, Burns. One game of Risk does not make a champion.”
I laughed and started humming.
"Okay, we got time for one more game before the morning calls come in.”
The massive call center was empty and silent. Jim and I had been working the overnight shift as computer techs for the last four months. Despite our vast political differences, we’d become close friends. His slender frame and quiet personality belied an inherent toughness, and his intelligence and intellectual curiosity paved the way for many interesting conversations when the phones went quiet.
“Hey, Steve, have you seen these?”
Jim had started working on his photography, and while I was no expert, I could appreciate his work. We looked through the pictures he’d posted on his web site and then suddenly he turned as the next picture came up. It was a man’s shoulder, artfully taken.
“That’s my ex-boyfriend.” He said quietly.
I blinked and then frowned, mostly out of confusion. I knew that he’d been dating his current girlfriend for nearly three years. He sat quietly, waiting for me to say something.
“Oh. But you’re dating a woman…”
I nodded and let that sink in. After a minute we started chatting, and I asked him frank questions about his sexuality, about what it meant, about his experience. I’m sure that some of my questions must have seemed a bit insipid, but because of our friendship he answered them readily enough, happy to be open with me. For the next six months we worked together, developing a strong friendship until the day he moved out West.
Jim was my first gay friend.
I didn’t realize it then, but my relationship with Jim changed my view on a lot of things.
I pulled into the church and headed for the end of the parking lot. It was empty tonight, and there was a vast, prairie like feel to the empty asphalt. At the edge of the lot (next to the church) was a medium security prison, complete with barbed wire fences and massive stadium lights. It was early in the evening still, and the bright sunlight illuminated the empty church and tightly knit prison structure with equal abandon. I steered my car towards the small island of grass between the two properties. I hadn’t thought about Jim in a long time, but it was time for me to write about him. And it: the highly politicized, and highly toxic, issue of homosexuality and the church.
Studies had revealed that the number one thing people associated with the church in North America was “anti-gay.” When I first read that, I wasn’t sure I believed it. After doing an informal study for a seminary course project which involved interviewing people on a Sunday morning however, it was easy enough to confirm. The church was known more for what it was against than what it stood for. At the top of that list was homosexuality. And for all I could argue, with much success, of all the good the church had done and still does in the world, this was not something I could defend. Why? Because it was true.
The church was anti-gay. Even worse, it did hate homosexuals.
Most people who attended Sunday morning service however, weren’t even aware of it, especially in the conservative denominations. Perhaps that was the saddest part of this whole tragedy. And yet, understanding how little this hatred was perceived by its members revealed more than any statement of faith ever could.
I pulled out my notepad and took a seat under the small tree in the middle of the island, enjoying the wisp of shade it provided from the early evening sun. From my spot on the ground, I had to squint to find the large arch out front of the church entrance. Suddenly I glanced over my shoulder at the prison, less than twenty yards from where I sat. Am I trespassing? I hadn’t considered it before, but I wasn’t sure if the grass island belonged to the church or the prison. I smiled sadly at the irony and leaned against the tree.
The politicizing of a moral question was the nature of the church, and without question, sexuality was a moral issue. It went without saying. (Just as many people today do not recognize the simple fact that Jesus was extremely political.) What bothered me however, was how the church had turned sexuality into only a political issue.
Over the years I'd seen the church divide into two camps when discussing homosexuality. One camp said that homosexuality was normal and wasn’t sin. Some churches, such as the United Church, had ordained gay and lesbian ministers. The other camp said that homosexuality was not only sin, but that encouraging homosexuals to attend your church was akin to encouraging licentiousness. Both of these views were extreme and neither, in my mind, reflected the message of Jesus.
It was impossible to read Scripture, from Genesis to Revelation, and not understand that God’s idea for marriage was to consist of one man and one woman. Any theologian who argued otherwise was simply not being intellectually faithful to the text in front of them. God, who despite Richard Dawkins’ blustering, fatuous theories to the contrary, consistently revealed Himself in the Bible to be a loving Father concerned about how best for his people to live. The ideal, God's best, was a marriage of one man and one woman. (Thousands (or millions) of years later, we know from our own data that this is still the case.) And yet, even in the Old Testament, King David (a man after God’s own heart) had multiple wives. I'd heard many politically minded Christians call gay marriage the step before legalized polygamy. (Which I agreed with) Well, if that was the case, David and Solomon and Abraham were ahead of the game. All of them were polygamists, and yet somehow God loved them and used them in powerful ways.
In the New Testament, it was quite clear what God’s hopes and expectations were for humanity in regards to sexuality: no sex outside of marriage. And that marriage consisted of one man and one woman.
So while I could agree that homo or hetero sexual relations outside of marriage was sin, it still didn’t answer the question.
Why did the church hate homosexuals?
I glanced up from my notebook. A cloud had covered the fading sun and a cool breeze swept across the parking lot. I’d been attending evangelical churches for fifteen years, different churches in seven different cities, and it was always the same. Not once had I met a gay person, an openly gay person, at my church. I’d heard pastors say, myself included, that the church didn’t hate anyone, that all were welcome. And maybe they thought, as I did, that they were being sincere. But if we’d stopped to examine how we did church and the things we said, the jokes we made, we’d have realized that wasn’t true at all. We were ignorant about understanding homosexuality, because for most of us, it simply wasn’t an issue. I would never know what it was like to desire another man, so it was easy to categorize in strong language about how moral “we” were. What we did was to make it an issue, and forget the humanity of it all.
The truth is that the church doesn’t like homosexuality because we're uncomfortable with it. It has a very high ‘ick’ factor. It has nothing to do with the fact the church thinks homosexuality is sin. If that was the case, why doesn’t the church have a hard time talking to addicts or prisoners or murderers or adulterers? Adultery, by any account, is a far more painful and flagrant sin than a man not understanding why he is attracted to other men. And of all the sins in the Bible, the greatest, by any exegetical rendering, is pride, not sex. Of any kind. (C.S. Lewis)
Unfortunately, there's no easy answer to the ISSUE of homosexuality. In the church, we've done a poor job welcoming people with lifestyles with which we disagree. We have, in fact, shown not love, but hatred. That may sound harsh, but if we're honest, we realize that it's true. I think that we feel threatened because we feel like we have to choose sides. Either we're pro-gay or anti-gay. But what if we don't have to choose? What if we just love people, whoever they are, and let them figure out what God has for them? Isn't that what Jesus did?
Look, loving homosexuals doesn't mean we have to give up our convictions, but it does mean we must give up our agendas. And what agenda does love have? It doesn't.
Love has no agenda.
I looked up from my notebook and rolled my neck. The sun had eased into twilight, and I glanced over at the stadium lights humming behind me. Sometimes the church was like a prison. Sometimes we let our fears get the best of us. Somehow we needed to break down the walls between cultural distaste and our distaste for sin. To remember the sinner wasn’t just the man or woman outside the church, but that the sinner was us. When Jesus invited the prostitutes and tax collectors he wasn’t being metaphorical. How sadly ironic that the Literalists, the Fundamentalists, taught this mostly as parable.
I still think of Jim these days. I miss his company. I think about the things he taught me about acceptance and love. It's normal to think politically when talking about morality. But to address people as 'issues' is inherently wrong, more sinful than any position we agree upon when it comes to sex. The church's first priority is not politics but relationships, and when any segment of our population no longer feels welcome within our walls, its time to get back on our knees and remember who we are, who God called us to be, and what we can do to make a difference. Until then, we are just another political party without an office.
May God open our eyes to see the prejudices within our hearts, and help us to become the loving people, within a life of love, that He has called us to be.