A couple of weeks ago, I engaged in an interesting conversation on Twitter with my friend Ben Moberg and several others about Christian leaders who hold their cards close when it comes to their positions on same-sex relationships and LGBT people. It became clear that such a conversation was worthy of more than 120-characters, (as important conversations often are), so I invited Ben to share his thoughts here on the blog.
Ben is a Christian gay man from Minnesota. After spending his life in the closet within a conservative evangelical culture, Ben, at last, came out and found love and freedom patiently waiting for him on the other side. Ben is a brother to four siblings, the youngest son, the very best uncle, a world traveler, and a painfully slow writer. Between his part-time jobs, he is writing a memoir about finding God in the hardest of places. Be sure to check out Ben’s fantastic blog and his Facebook page.
A couple months ago, Jen Hatmaker did the impossible: She wrote that same-sex marriage is sinful and yet left me in layers of love. It was a startling and confusing moment for me.
What I respect most about her article is that she didn’t brush the issue off. She didn’t shy away. She said: “To the degree it rests on my transparency as a leader, I bear responsibility for the conscience of others, and it is unfair to withhold.” Furthermore, she offered up a compassionate and grace-filled way forward for traditional marriage supporters and reminded them that many Christians disagree with their position, but they are no less godly, smart, or loving for doing so. And for all that, I so appreciate her. Even though I believe she is dead wrong.
In the pack I run in, most of my friends are slightly right of center. And when it comes to the issue of same-sex marriage in the church, they are committed to ambiguity. It’s brought up in conversation and they look at me, warmth in their eyes, and say: “You are you. You are not an issue to me. To be honest, I just don’t care about the theology stuff. You’re my friend. That settles it.”
Because I know their intent is good and it certainly sounds sweet and affirming enough, I nod and let it go. Yes, I am happy that I have not been cut down to one characteristic, and yes, I am happy that I am your friend and that you love me no matter what. This is all good news for me.
But just underneath the surface, I rebuff a little. There’s a tic. Something doesn’t feel right, because from my vantage point, there is a world of difference between I don’t know and I don’t care.
To not know is human. It’s where we all begin. There’s nothing shameful or wrong about not knowing where you stand on same-sex relationships. The Bible is a thorny book, chaotic with its thousands of translations. We have to gage cultural contexts, unearth a hermeneutic, parse through the Greek and Hebrew, deal with the anonymous books, the hyperbole, the question of what “God-breathed” actually means, the question of the Gospels’ authority over all the other texts, and the fact that each generation has interpreted Scripture from a different slant, passing the message down like a game of telephone.
Unearthing the truth out of all that is an act of faith in and of itself. Those who’ve done the hard labor ought to be celebrated, no matter where they wind up.
On the one hand, to not care is to have no concern for your brother, your friend, who, depending upon your conclusions, could be stepping off into the abyss of sin, perhaps never to return. On the other, to not care is to be apathetic to the oppression of both the Church and the state on my life. To not care is to think both of these scenarios are unworthy of time spent in study, in prayer, in speaking to God. To not care, in a way, is to not love.
Many Christian leaders that offer up the ambiguous "I Don’t Care" response follow with a suggestion that not caring about this is somehow the way of Jesus. They say they’re more focused on what Jesus did, which was “lovin’ on people” and making friends and all that. In these moments, my “Jesus Juke” detector spikes, as does my blood pressure.
You know the Jesus Juke, right?
Well, it’s quite handy actually. It’s a wormhole that can be opened and jumped through when one is faced with a contentious and complicated issue. The Juker says, for instance, that since Jesus didn’t talk about gays, I don’t need to either! He says that since Jesus talked mostly about poverty, justice for LGBTs is a big distraction, a nuisance, a we’ll-get-to-it-when-we-get-to-it sort of thing. Pushed to the end of his patience rope, the Jesus Juker will inevitably say something like this: Jesus is our unifier. His is our center, so please, for Pete’s sake, DROP IT!
But for me, I can’t. It’s my life and this is our friendship. You are my pastor, you are my teacher, you’re my favorite author, you’re a highly visible voice with influence. You are someone I want to trust. If you can’t trust me enough, love me enough, to be transparent over a rather large part of my journey, then how am I to still trust you?
All I am asking is that you stop sidestepping, that you stop saying, “I choose not reveal, because the culture war is so bad already [and so on and so forth]” when the truth is, you actually haven’t arrived at a conclusion.
If you do know, if you’re in a place of peace with your convictions, then as a leader, you have a responsibility to come out. You don’t get to withhold. That’s the burden of being a leader.
If you don’t know yet, then say that. Don’t Jesus Juke. Don’t claim abstention. Grab a Bible and some commentaries, grow a hermeneutic, and then go figure out what your role in this conversation is going to be.
Unless, that is, you actually don’t care. Then disregard this message altogether. Let us all know, so we can move on to someone who does.
Thoughts? Do Christian leaders have an obligation to share their position on same-sex relationships? How do you respond to those who say that since Jesus didn’t address homosexuality, they won’t either? Would love to get your feedback. Please be respectful.
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