Gays in the Church Part 1: Commonalities in the Debate and What Liberals Should Keep in Mind

There seems to be a good amount of debate on the web regarding the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) approving the full recognition and blessing of monogamous, same-sex relationships. You can read the statement from the ELCA right here.

John Piper made his thoughts well known here, if you’re in the mood for some comedy. Here is a thoughtful response to Piper from Greg Boyd. I’ve really appreciated Nadia Bolz-Weber’s perspective as a Lutheran minister in Denver. Tony Jones has been blogging regularly on the subject as well. Tony’s effort has been both brave and helpful but reading his comments section leads me to believe that there are some profound differences in the assumptions we all bring to this debate and until we do our best to identify those differences and set the stage, the debate inevitably leads us not very far. Rather than drawing the lines in the sand and duking it out, I think some mutual understanding is critical right now. The central purpose of this debate shouldn’t be to win but to better understand the other side. Maybe I’ve missed it in what reading I’ve done on this subject but I think there are a few things that are worth wrestling with before we lace the gloves up.

First, I want to talk a bit about what both sides have in common. An important commonality is that we all share is foundational longing to belong, to be accepted and to do so in a safe and stable environment. This same impulse fuels both sides of the debate and it might be helpful if we all could recognize this in all of our brothers and sisters and not demonize these desires but allow them to inspire empathy between ideological foes.

With that being said, the purpose of this specific post is to explore what those who are on the affirming side of this debate should keep in mind when engaging conservatives on this issue. Conservatives are genuinely fearful that the Scripture on which they base their understanding of the world and it’s proper order is being pushed aside. Right or wrong, conservatives take Old Testament law and/or Paul’s words at face value and for anyone to do otherwise is a marginalization of God’s Word. This reliance on Scripture is a foundational element of their sense of belonging, their desire for order and their understanding of the world in which we all live. Whether one agrees with them or not on their view of Scripture, it is understandable that this debate immediately puts them on unstable ground which can be an immensely troubling experience which inspires much fear, anxiety, even anger. It might be as if someone was dancing on the grave of your grandparent, mocking the life they’ve lived. While I don’t believe for a moment that this is the intent of the vast majority of those who affirm same-sex relationships, this might be how it feels for conservatives who’ve entered this debate. For those of us on the opposite side of the debate, we must do all we can to empathize with this anxiety and fear, especially when things get ugly.

Next I’ll write a bit about what conservatives should keep in mind when engaging folks who affirm monogamous, same-sex relationships. Thanks for reading.

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4 thoughts on “Gays in the Church Part 1: Commonalities in the Debate and What Liberals Should Keep in Mind

  1. z-ach,
    thanks for the post.
    i appreciate your willingness to engage such a topic with grace and love, trying to help both sides come to the table and hopefully STAY at the table long enough to listen, understand, and empathize… even if they leave unchanged. (which would be unusual if you were truly “listening, trying to understand, and empathizing,” that OUGHT to change you).
    i think your assessment of the foundational fear of many conservatives is spot on. of course, this fear leaks over in to many other issues as well, as i’m sure you’re well aware of. do you think we can even BEGIN to discuss said issues (like gays in the church) BEFORE talking about Scripture (what it is and isn’t, what it’s role and authority is and isn’t)? have you had interactions with conservatives about such issues without addressing in some way the issues relating to their views of Scripture?

    i’ve found that any sort of “talk” about a different perspective/approach/belief about Scripture can almost be just as (if not more) volatile than talks about homosexuality/etc.

    i appreciate you, man

  2. Sheryl-I’m aware of Andrew’s work but have yet to actually read him. I’ll definitely look him up.

    Colby-I’m planning on getting into what you’re hitting at here further along in the series, but I think you’re on the money. The issue is loaded with a more general question how we interact with scripture. That’s why I think it’s such a super-charged and fascinating discussion. I’m gonna get into that a bit more.

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