At the risk of being repetitive and boring, banging on about the church and homosexuality again…
This is written mainly to a Christian audience, but if you wouldn’t call yourself a Christian, you’re of course still very welcome to read and comment on it!
Below is a letter I wrote to Christianity magazine, printed in this month’s edition.
One of the reasons for this letter is that divergence of opinion on sexuality seems to be currently the distinguishing factor between church and the rest of society – at least publicly, as portrayed by the media.
This worries me immensely, although I know this is not actually the predominant differentiating factor for (hopefully) any Christian, but rather an emphasis implied by the media.
The things that should distinguish the church from the world around us are qualities such as joy, love, forgiveness, mercy, grace:
Joy: Christians should be the happiest people on earth because we’ve received the best news ever, of a slate wiped clean, of eternal love, with the joy of true liberation.
Love etc: We should be known for our love for each other: church fellowships held together by patience, mercy, forgiveness, unity of heart, and overflowing with grace and generosity to the world around us.
Actually, much of the time this is the reality!
One of many things that drew me to Jesus was seeing faces of Christians ‘glowing’ with the joy of knowing the Messiah. They had something supernatural and wonderful.
The unity, love and community support within ordinary church fellowships goes on unnoticed by the media and much of society, week in, week out. Churches are made up of ordinary, broken people with faults and difficulties, and yet these fellowships are communities held together by patience and love in the face of (at times) misunderstandings and disagreements that are typical of any family.
Church members’ support for each other is often phenomenal and sacrificial, without any trumpet-blowing or media hype.
Their experience of Jesus’ love drives many to serve outside their churches, in the wider community, either voluntarily or (as in my case) in paid work, through organisations like Street Pastors, hospices, healthcare and other public services.
Privately, church communities are often what they should be, distinguished from the rest of the world by love, joy, patience and mercy. Let us not be fooled by the media that we’re defined by views on sexuality.
So that’s the backdrop to my letter to Christianity, which was edited down to the point where the argument I was making was unfortunately somewhat lost. Hence, for the record, below is the full letter (with relevant Bible passages also inserted, rather than just references).
Note to self: in future, when writing to magazines, write shorter letters!
Here’s the letter:
Whatever our view is on homosexuality, it’s important to hold it in perspective. To illustrate from the story of Sodom: even IF (and that’s a big ‘if’) homosexual practice is always wrong in God’s eyes, the sin of Sodom was not so much this as the fact that they had become so self-centred and hedonistic that, not only did they neglect to show hospitality to strangers and care for the poor, they went even further by seeking only to rape and abuse those who came to visit their city.
See Ezek 16:49-50: “Sodom’s sins were pride, gluttony, and laziness, while the poor and needy suffered outside her door. She was proud and committed detestable sins, so I wiped her out, as you have seen”.
The root was selfishness. What can we learn, therefore, about how to treat gay or straight people who visit our churches or move into our streets? How good are we at welcoming and caring for people? Are our church services designed to serve ourselves or to draw in outsiders? These questions are more important than sexual orientation or practice.
This sin of Sodom was the worst possible abuse. AND YET…even worse than this in God’s eyes is the rejection of grace and of the Holy Spirit by those who have seen evidence of him working before their very eyes.
See the words of Jesus in Luke 10:8-12: “If you enter a town and it welcomes you, eat whatever is set before you. Heal the sick, and tell them, ‘The Kingdom of God is near you now.’ But if a town refuses to welcome you, go out into its streets and say,‘We wipe even the dust of your town from our feet to show that we have abandoned you to your fate. And know this—the Kingdom of God is near!’ I assure you, even wicked Sodom will be better off than such a town on judgment day.”
How we respond when we see God at work and hear his voice is ultimately more important than anything. This will affect how we love God and people, whether gay or straight.
Even IF we believe homosexual practice is wrong, it is OK for others to believe and practise otherwise with a clear conscience. We can agree to disagree. If same-sex marriage is approved, it will apply to a small minority and will not threaten traditional marriage nearly as much as the far more accepted and widespread practice of heterosexual co-habitation or the prevalence of failing heterosexual marriages. I see few Christians campaigning against heterosexual co-habitation. Let’s not worry about same-sex marriage: who knows, maybe gay couples will show greater commitment and honouring of their vows than straight couples?!
Let’s avoid hypocrisy as much as possible, keeping things in God’s perspective and making God’s priorities our priorities: such as practising hospitality, recognising God’s voice and showing grace and love to people of all sexual and theological persuasions!
(I promise the next blog will be on a completely different subject!)