Tuesday, 30 June 2015

Yes, Love does win

I did not want to write about this.

Even now, as I begin, I’m having second thoughts. I know that if I write and post about this on the internet, people might read it. People on both sides of the issue. And they might get mad at me. They might, depending on what side the sit, label me a bigot or a heretic. Or both. Because that’s what happens with this issue: people, on both sides, use labels to attack their opponents. Heck, I might get mad at myself, if I read it in five years time.  

Yet, as I see responses still pouring out on the social media I spend way too much time on, I feel that I cannot be silent on the issue. The more I read, the more I realise how deeply divided people are on this issue.  I see many people celebrating, changing their profiles to feature a rainbow. And I see many of my Christian friends responding in the way they see best. And boy, do these responses very, from those celebrating as hard as any, to those calling for Christians in America to retreat further into their own subculture.

Before I go on, a side-note for those reading in the future, or who have been living under a rock in the present, or thanks to the wonders of time travel are reading this from the past, and are looking for some sort of historical context, here it is. On Friday June 26th (US time) the US Supreme court ruled that same sex marriages were a constitutional right, thus requiring every state to recognise same sex marriages (in my own country, New Zealand, same sex marriage was legalised in 2013.)  A decision which sent the internet into a frenzy.  And not just Americans, people from everywhere.

Many, on both sides have called this a cultural war. The thing is, I don’t like wars. Even when there is a victory, they always lead to casualties. On Both sides.

So I don’t want to be just another voice, egging on one side or another to keep fighting. I want to be a voice of peace, of reconciliation, of compassion. Because if you are truly a champion of whichever side you claim to be on, then you should want this too. If you are truly a champion of equal rights, freedom and tolerance, then surly this freedom and tolerance must extend to the freedom of religion. And if you are truly a Christian, truly a follower of the God of love, forgiveness and compassion, then surly this love, forgiveness and compassion extends to the people of the lgbt community too.

Maybe I’m a naive idealist, like Peeta in The Hunger Games, calling for a ceasefire before it’s due. But if we keep fighting, people will continue to get hurt.  And no, I’m not saying that we should stop talking about and pushing forward with the issue. But I think that we do need to stop and ask ourselves if, by fighting, we are becoming the very thing we say we are fighting against.   

So I’m going to tell you a story. 

Stories are important, for us as individuals, as communities and as societies. They tell us who we are. And so I want to tell you the story which, as a Christian, I identity as being my story. I want to do so for two reasons. Firstly, I hope that by doing so, our friends who are not of the Christian faith may, perhaps, have a bit more understanding of where some Christian are coming from, as understanding is an important step towards healing.  And secondly, because I want my Christian brothers and sisters to consider what is the best way to move forward from our own story. So here goes.

It begins with a creative and loving God, who creates humans as something to love and who will love him back.
  He creates humans, as it says in Genesis:

“ Then God said, “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals,[a] and over all the creatures that move along the ground.”

" So God created mankind in his own image,
in the image of God he created them;
male and female he created them.”

And later:

“The Lord God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a companion for him who corresponds to him.”

And finally:

That is why a man leaves his father and mother and is united to his wife, and they become one flesh.

So God created humans in his image to reflect something of who God himself[1] is, and also as relational beings, to live in relationship with God, with other humans and indeed with the whole of creation. And as part of this, he created us males and females, and created us to marry. So for Christians, marriage is special. It reflects both something foundational about what we believe it means to be human, and something of who God is. Now, to those who are reading this, who are not part of the Christian community, I’m not going to expect you to believe this for yourselves. What I would ask of you is that you have enough grace to understand that for many Christians, marriage as precious treasure, and that the best of us get antsy over the things we hold dearest.

Now, when God created the first humans, the relationship between God and humans (and humanity to humanity) was perfect. Unfortunately, along the way it got broken. Humans stopped loving God and loving each other and started hurting others and disobeying God instead. And thus the relationship with God was broken. And since then, all humans have been tainted with what we sometimes call “sin.” It means that we no longer love God and others the way we were created to.

But God did not give up on us. He still loves us. So he called a people to be his people, to be a “light” to the rest of the world. These people were the Jews. And the part of The Bible known as the Old Testament tells their story. They were given a law, a code to live by, which separated them for the nations around them.[2] Sometimes, they did a good job, other times, not so much.

Next enters someone I’m sure you have all heard of: Jesus. For Christians, Jesus is more than just a man; he is God in human flesh. He came to restore human relationship with God. He spent three years walking around, saying some seemingly crazy things like “love your enemies” and “do not judge”  and “I am the way, the truth and the life,” which confused the heck out of the authorities of the day, who decided to get rid of him. They killed him by crucifying him on the cross, although Christians believe that he rose from the dead three days later, before ascending into Heaven. Now, of all the things he said, he is never record to have said anything on the topic of homosexuality.

After Jesus’ time on earth, his followers continued to spreed his teaching, although it took them a while to work out what it meant to follow him. The New Testament comes from this time, and contains many writings to churches struggling with this. Now, this contains many writings of a guy named Paul, and it is from Paul that many of quotations regarding homosexuality which often get thrown around in these conversations come from.[3] Now, as anyone who has study anything at university would know, scholars are notorious for disagreeing on almost everything. And one thing they seem to disagree on is that the words most often translated as “homosexual” meant in the original Greek.[4] There was a practice amongst Roman soldiers, where they would take on a boy as sexual partner. Some say this was what Paul was condemning. Others say that he was talking about any homosexual practice.[5] For most of the New Testament however, homosexuality is not mentioned. The most important themes are in fact, God’s love and forgives for humankind.

One more word specifically to those of you who do not identify as a Christian: The Bible, to Christians, is also a treasure. For us, it is the very word of God, spoken in a specific time, place and culture, but relevant to all peoples across time and space. But it is also a complicated book. So please, give us grace, as we wrestle with it, interpret it and live as faithful as we can, knowing that we will get it wrong sometimes (we too, are human, after all.)

And so, my Christian brothers and sister, I have noticed, over the past few days, that we disagree on this issue. But can we not all agree that if we focus on one issue (like this one), we risk missing the main point? Both the Old and New Testament talk overwhelmingly about God’s love and forgiveness, and how he is reconciling all things to himself thought Christ. As Christians, we have the great privilege in partnering with God as he draws people to himself. If we focus too much on an issue like LGBT rights, we can miss this.

We are all, after all, sinners. None of us were prefect when we became Christians. All of us, regardless of our sexual orientation, continue to struggle with sin (including sexual sin), even after conversion. We all need God’s love, God’s grace, God’s forgiveness.

 So let’s try and focus on bring the Good News of Jesus to all people, straight and guy, that God loves them, and that there is grace and forgiveness through the cross. Let’s be a people who are known for our love and kindness, who go out and build relationship with people by loving them, caring for them, meet their needs being a part of their lives. When people see the love of Jesus, then they will want to know more. Surly this is what God is calling us (indeed, has always called us) to do.

 And yes, Christians from the LGBT community will have to wrestles with their lives and work out what areas they need to change in light of their new relationship with God (like anyone else who comes to the Lord.) But shouldn’t we at least let them do that in a loving Christian community, with the help of the Holy Spirit and the Word, like anyone else who comes to faith? Even if we do hold that homosexual is a sin, isn’t this a better way to deal with it than yelling “turn or burn!” at them from across the picket fence, or on a facebook wall?

And yes, I know there will be those concerned with the way society is going, that we seem to be losing the so called “culture war.” But Jesus calls us to love both our neighbours and our enemies. This is more important that winning the "cultural war." It is only by inviting people to participle in God’s story voluntary, rather than focusing them to live it through the law of the land, that we will make the most difference. After all, isn't this what God does for all of us,  by giving us the freedom to chose to follow him or not?

The Christian gospel is that LGBT people do need God, NOT because they are LGBT, but because they are human, and, like all humans, are hurt people, who hurt people. They have, like all of us, a broken relationship with God, which can be restored through Christ.

I would like to conclude with some more words from Paul.

 “I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor heavenly rulers, nor things that are present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in creation will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

My hope and prayer is that we will not create any artificial barriers to keep to the love of God from anyone who seeks it.

[1] Yes, I am aware that God for Christians is nether male or female, but I’m also not aware of a gender neutral equivalent for “himself” which also reflects the person-hood that God also has.
[2] The Leviticus 20:13 which is often quote in the context of LGBT issues was part of this law.
[3]  Romans 1:24-27; 1Corinthians 6:9-10; and 1Tim 1:10 if you want to look them up.
[4] The New Testament writings were originally written in Greek.
[5] Unfortunately, it seems (at lest to me) that most people take the interpretation which suits the point of view which they already hold, rather than really weighing the evidence, make it extremely difficult to make a call as to which is the more faithful interpretation.

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