On Friday I had the opportunity to take a road trip with some of my students. We travelled from Ashland to Cincinnati to view the Pompeii exhibit at a Cincinnati museum. The trip was 3 hours down and, because of traffic, about 4 hours back. So there was plenty of time for conversation.
While a variety of topics were discussed, the topic of homosexuality dominated most of the time. The students sitting behind me in the van were discussing their scriptural understanding, the president’s recent announcement, and how they do or would interact with homosexual Christians. There were a number of anecdotal stories along the way.
I drove and listened. I didn’t engage since the voice of a professor tends to be a student led conversation killer. And I must say that I was very pleased and proud to listen the way they talked. There was no hint of hate or homophobia. No indication that they were looking to ostracize gay Christians. There wasn’t even a suggestion that being gay made it impossible to be a Christian. Rather, they were attempting to have a serious, theologically informed conversation on the topic. And while I don’t think they reached any definitive conclusions and they certainly didn’t all agree, I was pleased to hear them engaging the topic.
As I reflect on the trip l am both heartened and disappointed. I am heartened because a group of students preparing for the ministry (ages 20s to 50s) were seriously engaging the topic of homosexuality and were seeking answers in a way that rejects much of the way the topic was handled in the past and even today. But I am also disheartened because, at least from my own experience, many in the church and in seminaries are not talking about homosexuality and if they are it is quite often talk that is rooted in fear and misunderstanding. It is still very much an “us versus them.”
I wish that churches and seminaries would engage in a serious conversation about sexuality. I am not suggesting that everyone would end up on the same page. But I wish that an honest conversation was being had rather than dividing us into those who are for and those who are against. I wish that Christians would look harder at what the Bible does and doesn’t say about sexuality and ask to what degree some of those ideas are cultural and time bound and others more lasting. I wish pastors were doing a better job of educating their people and engaging them in intelligent conversation that encourages them to love everyone, even those they don’t agree with our understand. I wish the church would not react out of homophobia.
I am reminded of what it was like growing up in the church when divorce was still taboo. Preachers often railed against it in sermons. We were taught that it was wrong, period, nothing more. But we never were asked to look at all that the Bible has to say nor did we ask how we should understand it in our modern culture. Those who did get divorced often found themselves shunned with little support and it was not unusual for a divorced person to leave a church for another or none at all. We never really talked about it. All we did was say it was wrong and whispered about it when it happened. And the result? According to most polls divorce rates are just as high in the church if not higher than those outside the church. Couples are getting divorced regularly and while the church may provide support groups and are more accepting of the divorced person, the divorce is always the theological elephant in the room because most Christian people are not prepared to think about it theologically. They can react emotionally, even politically, but they don’t know how to process it theologically.
I suspect that we are heading in the same direction with homosexuality. Many are using it as political wedge and are not even considering that gay Christians are human beings loved by God. Some even think God hates gays. I so wish that our churches and seminaries would have an honest conversation on the topic. Again I don’t presume that everyone will agree. But I would like to see us be able to talk in a way that fosters love all around instead of hatred and fear. I wish we would learn to talk.
In the mean time I am proud of my students for honestly wrestling with this topic and not being afraid to ask the hard questions. I don’t know where they will land on the spectrum, but I am glad to see that they are talking and thinking together. May they inspire a new generation of leaders.
*Note: The reflections above are mine and based on my experiences. I realize that not every ones will be the same. Also, please note that I am not taking sides in this post. I am merely asking for a conversation. I realize that some churches and seminaries are having the conversation, but many are not. They are only reacting.