Today at the General Convention in Minneapolis the Episcopal Church took the first step towards confirming a gay bishop. A second vote comes tomorrow that will approve or reject Rev. Gene Robinson’s candidacy for the New Hampshire diocese.
I’m not sure what I’m supposed to think about this whole issue. A blog I read almost daily received some unkind personal jabs after posting a few comments about homosexuality, and I’m not eager to receive the same. Especially since that blog wasn’t posting original comments, but quoting what others have said.
I waiver when it comes to homosexuality. There are clear places in the Bible where it is condemned. But so are sideburns. Those who turn to Judaic law for support are tiring. And there are places in the New Testament. Of course I’ve heard the arguments for and against. I’ve heard people argue that a monogamous gay relationship should be perfectly acceptable. I’ve also seen people filled with hate and rage over an issue that shouldn’t consume as much passion as it does. I’ve heard people interpret and argue for a lot of things based on scripture, and it’s amazing to me that so many different people can come away from the Bible with so many different things. That’s probably a tribute to its supernatural staying power.
I’ve heard people argue that the church is legalistic, political, out-dated, condemning, hypocritical and lacking in love, grace and mercy. I’ve also heard people argue that some branches of the church are too liberal, weak, accepting and compromising. I’ve also heard wiser people lament about the condition of the church when it comes to issues like these.
One of my favorite arguments, which doesn’t totally stand up, is the simple matter of focus. As Christians, many get wrapped up in concerns like homosexuality, abortion, Harry Potter or whatever big issue you have in mind. We find biblical grounding for our opinion, no matter how obscure or questionable, and fight tooth and nail for our perspective. Yet all the while we are failing so incredibly in every other area, we are lunging with a sharp pair of tweezers for the speck in our neighbor’s eye, while a 2×4 is jutting out of our own eye, smashing and breaking everything around us.
Wealth is one of the biggest issues in the Bible. From beginning to end you’ll find God’s overwhelming concern for the poor, his criticism of the rich, his warnings to be careful about money, to not let it rule you, to not be wrapped up in material concerns. Yet look at today’s church. Only 6 percent of Christians gave 10 percent of their income to their church or other ministries in 2002. That’s the biblical example of a tithe, which doesn’t come close to the New Testament church model, which was closer to 100 percent. As rich as the American church is, our parking lots are crammed with SUVs. We have ignored one of the biggest issues in the Bible.
While I love this argument (possibly because I like to point out the specks in others’ eyes, possibly because it’s so fun and easy to rip on institutional problems), it’s also true that we can’t just let everything go because we’re hypocrites. Just because we suck when it comes to material wealth, doesn’t mean we can’t stand up for the rest of our faith. Being a person of belief is often about being a hypocrite, simply because we can’t live up to our faith. Being a Christian means being a hypocrite. That’s what grace is all about. Yet as much as you can make that counter-argument, it doesn’t reject the fact that the church should seriously reevaluate its focus.
When it comes to homosexuality, I am convinced of one thing. Like many things we deal with, it’s a personal issue. It can’t be decided by votes and articles and books and protests. It’s an issue that must be dealt with person to person. You can’t make claims about the homosexual person without intimately knowing one. Jesus did not make a judgment about anyone without knowing their history and background, and even then his judgments were so full of love and grace that you could hardly call them judgments. If you’re going to confront an incredibly difficult issue like homosexuality, or any hot-button issue, you need to be intimately involved with people who are directly dealing with it. I believe that is the only way we can truly show love and not let our condemning hatred shine through. It’s easy to scoff and judge from a distance, but when it affects a friend it’s not so easy.
I’ve only personally known an openly homosexual person once in my life. She was my high school writing teacher. Other Christians warned me away from her classes because she was a homosexual. But you can’t be a writer and avoid writing classes, so I took her classes. I took two writing classes and two independent studies with her. It’s only through that kind of interaction that you can actually deal with an issue like this. Unfortunately, our contact quickly diminished after high school, though I did make a few visits back during college. At this point I’m no longer in a friendship with a homosexual person that would allow me to make a worthy statement on this issue.
But from my two years with that homosexual writing teacher, I do know that she is a person. She is a person capable of pain and hurt, love and honesty, joy and sorrow. She is a person with the same needs as you or I, a person who — I believe — needs Jesus Christ almost as much as I do. She has felt the stones throw of Christians, and it’s little wonder she hasn’t come closer. It is from this brief relationship that I have learned that love, grace and mercy are needed more than hatred, judgment and condemnation. I’ve learned that thinking before speaking is vital, and I’ve learned that life is not a simple list of rules that show us how to live. It’s a difficult walk, and none of us can claim to know it better than another.