Monday, October 29, 2012

What Would It Take?

Disagreement is uncomfortable.  I suspect many people feel as I do that it would be far more pleasant to live in a world where everyone agreed on everything (or at least everything of importance).  In reality, though, we sometimes place too much importance on agreement.  A neighbor who thoughtfully disagrees often makes a better friend than an ally who tolerates no dissent.

For that reason (among others) I've made a conscious effort to maintain contact with friends who fall on the opposite side of the fence when it comes to the issue of homosexuality.  That's not always possible, given that far too many conservative Christians remain completely closed to any genuine dialogue, but when it is possible I've found it to be worth doing.

Craig Adams, who I first met through the now-defunct Bridges Across, is one such individual.  Although he still holds to a Side B position, he remains open to listening to what those on Side A have to say.  On his blog he recently explored the question of what it would take to convince him that he was wrong.  Among other things, he points out the differences in worldview and approach to Scripture that separate the two sides and hinder meaningful dialogue.  Merely arguing over the clobber passages is never going to bridge that divide, even if one side were to somehow manage to "win" the debate.

In the end he doesn't reach a conclusive answer as to what would change his mind, but I don't find that surprising.  Having originally come from a Side B perspective, if anything it's even more difficult for me to envision returning to my former beliefs.  Even so, it would be hypocritical of me to insist that I couldn't be wrong on this issue, however firmly I now hold to my hard-won convictions.

(For those unfamiliar with the terms Side A and Side B, link here or here.)

So what would it take to sway me?  After pondering the question, here is what come to mind:

First and foremost, I would have to sense God's leading.  My journey to Side A began with a deep and profound encounter with God that triggered a flood of questions that, in turn, made it impossible for me to remain where I was.  Every step of the way I dragged my feet, desperately afraid of being led astray by my feelings; I resolved early on that I would not abandon Side B for the sake of indulging in what feels good, or out of anger toward the false promises I'd been fed by the ex-gay movement.  And every step of the way God continued to encourage both my questions and the conclusions I was reaching.

As a fallible human being I must acknowledge that, despite the caution with which I undertook this journey, it is still possible that I have been misled by my own feelings.  It's a purely academic possibility in my mind, given everything I've seen and heard over the course of the last eight years, but I still accept the importance of remaining open to new information.

I wouldn't expect God to work in my life in exactly the same way twice, but I would still expect to see evidence of a broader movement of the Holy Spirit.  If Side B is correct, then adhering to a traditional sexual ethic should be good news, something positive that gay Christians can embrace rather than merely resign themselves to, and something that advances the Kingdom of God (which, as Jesus repeatedly told us, is in the here and now) by helping to make the world a better place.

By "better place" I mean better for everyone, not just for the many heterosexual Christians who have used their Side B beliefs as an excuse to make themselves more comfortable by shaming, ostracizing and casting out those who are different from them.  If Side B represents the heart of God, then upholding that standard should make members of Christ's body more compassionate - not merely in the abstract "I don't want you to go to Hell" sense that too often embodies the evangelical (mis-)definition of compassion, but in the sense of moving them to want to get to know their LGBT neighbors better so that they can understand what life is really like for those they're asking to make such large sacrifices.  I wouldn't expect everyone to go to the lengths that Timothy Kurek did, but that is the sort of empathy that is integral to my definition of compassion.

I don't expect the entire church to suddenly become perfect, but at the present time there still seems to be very little middle ground between those who believe God is fine with same-sex relationships and those who want all gay people to go away entirely.  The majority of those who do try to bridge that gap typically end up, like me, moving over to Side A.

And for those gay Christians who do faithfully live by Side B standards, there is still far too little acceptance among those who should be their strongest champions.  If God is truly the inspiration behind Side B, then a gay Christian who lives a celibate life and who feels called to ministry should be openly embraced by his or her church and viewed as eligible for any position of spiritual leadership, without being tainted by the deep suspicion that most conservatives still seem to hold for them.

Having said all of that, I do have the luxury of still being single as I ponder the above possibilities.  Were I in a committed relationship, I might not be open to entertaining the idea that God could want me to abandon someone I so deeply love.

And having said all of that, even if I were somehow persuaded to return to a Side B worldview, that would not include a return to fighting against legal equality for LGBT individuals.  The use of political power to impose "God's standards" on others is antithetical to the invitational message of the Gospel and, in the long run, a thoroughly self-destructive crusade.  On that point I cannot, in good conscience, compromise.

I also could not return to the ex-gay doublespeak that I once twisted myself in knots trying to conform to.  Whatever God's will may be for how I live my life, the fact remains that I am not heterosexual and, barring supernatural intervention, I never will be.  I cannot simultaneously live a life of integrity and lie about myself just to make the heterosexual majority more comfortable.

If I really am wrong, I trust God to eventually bring me around, even if that journey doesn't end up looking the way I imagine it now.  But for now, at least, I know that I'm right where I need to be, and that God is present and active there.  And why would I want to be anywhere else?


Craig L. Adams said...

Thanks for the link and thanks for your thoughts. Just lately I've been thinking that the whole idea of being on different "sides" is not serving us well. If two people are honestly seeking God's will, acknowledging common sources and norms, but arrive at differing conclusions why should we understand them to be on different sides? They are united in a common desire to understand and to be faithful — both to the Christian faith and to the realities of human life.

Part of the problem for me is that I have spent so many years in the a religious organization (the United Methodist Church) that already understood itself to be divided into "sides" long before the homosexual issue arrived as the presenting issue. People in the liberal and conservative camps mostly don't accept the validity of the faith of the people in their opposite camp.

But, aren't Scripture, tradition, and the realities of human life (complex and varied though they may be) legitimate concerns for both sides? Can't people who come to differing conclusions on specific issues still be on the same side in a wider sense?

Eugene said...

Ideally, yes, and I hope that day comes. The question is how do we build that bridge when the issue at hand generates such strong emotions on both sides?