This is not how I planned to wrap up this series of articles. I intended to write an introduction, four articles summarizing four different views, and then end with a concluding post outlining some of my own thoughts and beliefs on the subject of homosexuality and the church. This undertaking was far more bold than I realized. So in this post, I’ll forgo the fourth argument, and instead try to understand why my writing ignited such volatility.
A few weeks ago our pastor at Life Point preached a sermon calling for each person to eat the piece of the pie that’s theirs – when a disagreement happens, you cannot just point your finger across the table. There’s responsibility, or pie, for everyone. I have come to realize that while my writing and exploration was done in freedom and good conscious before God, it had consequence for many other folks. Paul is pretty clear in Romans 12, 13, 14 that we are supposed to live at peace as best as we are able, to not eat (say) what would distress our brother/sister, for none of us lives or dies to himself alone. Love does no harm to its neighbor. These lines get kind of blurry when you write because you don’t dictate who will read. My exploration in a public space caused some of my neighbors great distress and discomfort, and it’s my duty to take responsibility for that. That’s my piece of the pie.
When I was a kid, we used to line up dominoes across the hardwood kitchen floor. Carefully placing each one, and the next, and the next. We formed a long chain, and if one went, they all went with it. There is a tendency in some communities to view biblical teachings (doctrines) as dominoes. In this way, each domino is equally as important as the one before and after it – each one must be handled with the same reverence and care – if one should tumble, we recognize, the whole system will crumble down the line. I’ve always loved the phrase hills to die on – it really rolls out of the mouth. In the domino system, every hill is a hill to die on, because if you lose one hill, they’re all in jeopardy.
Another way of viewing doctrine is by tiers – first level, second level, third level, etc. In this system, only the most important teachings are held in tier 1, things like the death and resurrection of Christ, the virgin birth, the belief that God is the maker of heaven and earth, and such. As you move down through tiers two and three, the doctrines are less essential. While the church can have an official stance on all these things, it recognizes its members may vary somewhat in the second and third levels – as long as they still hold to those things of first importance. This is a way for the Calvinist brother and the Armenian brother to be able to fellowship together. The sister who drinks alcohol and the sister who does not. These issues aren’t worth dividing over, and they don’t have to.
In order to find out which doctrines are held in which places, or if tiers exist, we simply look around the room. How much disagreement can one have and still be viewed as “in?” What is it ok to disagree about openly? What I’ve found in writing about homosexuality (writing about, not choosing a side) is that many see this issue equal in importance with the resurrection of Christ. They make no distinction. And they fear very much that a varying belief on homosexuality would topple the domino of the authority of scripture, which would topple the domino of the validity of Christ’s resurrection. Can there be fellowship in the church between those who came out differently on young earth creation? The historical Adam? Predestination? The head-covering? Eternal security? The holy kiss? Electricity in homes? Voting? Color of cars? Abortion? The Lord of the Rings? Harry Potter? Homosexuality?
What We Get
What ends up happening when we use a domino system is the tent of orthodoxy gets really small. The space under the tent of “this is what you need to believe” is very limited. This is evident when there is very little diversity in a church – everyone looks and believes almost exactly the same because everyone has to in order to be “in.” When we are able to see doctrines in different tiers of importance, the tent becomes larger. If you hold to the Apostle’s Creed (the major beliefs), you can disagree about whether we should still be wearing the head covering, whether Christians should vote, what kind of literature Genesis is. This larger tent allows diversity in the church so long as there is unity on the most important issues. There is freedom for each to work out their own salvation within the confines of “orthodoxy.”
When we have a domino view, we have to die on every hill. We rise up against those who raise questions and cast their salvation in question. We create an environment where doubt must be kept secret, wrestling must be done alone, and searching is not safe in the community. When we have a domino view, we bristle at those who would dare to suggest we re-examine a teaching, because we know all the other teachings are bound to that one. When we hold to a domino view, we are militant towards folks who want to talk about homosexuality, about a young earth creation, about gender roles, about different hermeneutical approaches. We are afraid, and rightly so. As one belief goes, so go them all.
Faith of Our Fathers
Every generation is handed the faith of its fathers, and they work out their own from there. I don’t know a single person who believes everything their parents did, or who didn’t get a little upset by a crotchety old fellow in the church where they grew up. It’s a part of everyone’s story it seems. Every faithful generation is led by the Holy Spirit, taking the faith they were given and being guided towards where they stand now. And as a writer and a young person, that’s what I’m asking for as well. The same Spirit that led my elders to this present day will lead me – I am confident of it.
I believe God called me to write, and when I write I feel his pleasure. I intend to fill tablets and hard-drives, the pages of books and articles. The more I write, the more I’m convinced I’ll never get to half of what there is to be explored. I’ve told my wife several times, if I could choose a super-power it would be the power of stopping time. Then I could read enough to know what I need, to be able to write what I want to say. Even now I’m stealing time from tomorrow, writing while you all are asleep. In order to be faithful to my gifting, I need space. I need to know that if I raise a question on the second level, I won’t be condemned, I won’t be accosted, I won’t feel the loneliness of despair and an upset stomach. I need the trust of my community that I too love the Lord – isolation is not nearly so good as freedom, but both are space.
The last three weeks of my life have been lonely to say the least – miserable and depressing probably gets more to the fact of it. I cannot ever recall being met with such hostility, adamant resistance, and incredulity as a writer, or a person in general. I spent many many hours reading, then writing, then editing, before I offered my work. I intended this series of articles, wherein I examined different views about a controversial topic, to be of benefit to me and my community at large. It seems even raising the question, even suggesting homosexuality might not be an issue of pristine clarity, was in some eyes out of bounds. In this way, where I offended, I apologize.
A few days after I published part 3, someone reached out to me. A guy I’ve never met named Trae had read my post (and the threads) and messaged me with a good word and a book suggestion. Not only that, he sent me $10 electronically to buy the book. And it’s a few thoughts from this book, The Moral Vision of the New Testament, that I’d like to leave you with.
“I cannot excommunicate my militarist brothers and sisters, and I do not expect them to excommunicate me [who believes in non-violence]. But I do expect that there will be vigorous moral debate in which we try to persuade each other whether Christians can ever rightly take up the sword. Just as there are serious Christians who in good conscious believe in just war theory, so there are serious Christians who in good conscience believer that same-sex erotic activity is consonant with God’s will. For the reasons set forth in this book, I think that both groups are wrong, but in both cases the questions are so difficult that we should receive one another as brothers and sisters in Christ and work toward adjudicating our differences through reflecting together on the witness of Scripture.” – Richard B. Hayes
I do not affirm same sex marriage, and I hope to lend further to the discussion about the faithful witness of scripture on this topic. These are the conversations we have to enter into, now perhaps more than ever. Shutting them down and trampling on those who would raise them ensures only that we’ll be a prophetic voice shouting into an echo chamber with no one listening and ourselves to blame.