when Christians disagree

Wednesday I had a joyful breakfast with a friend of mine. He and I have a unique connection because he changed my life. This blog wouldn’t exist if he didn’t exist. I always tell him how much I appreciate him, how much he has blessed my life, how grateful I am that he invested in me. He’s one of those people in life to whom you can’t express your gratification for them enough — I feel almost annoying for telling him these things all the time.

He also thinks gay relationships are morally okay.

Let me provide a bit of background to our relationship. If you’ve read “some of Tony’s story,” he’s the guy who, during my freshman year, published an article called “Gay at Wheaton,” which put my life on a new path because it gave me the courage to be open about my sexuality. We emailed back and forth, and then finally got together my sophomore year, about 7 months after he published the article. What he thought would just be a meal together turned into a meet weekly mentoring relationship. There were tears shed, many prayers, and a lot of truth spoken. The Holy Spirit did a lot of work through our relationship, and I became a different person.

That summer, through another friend, I found out that he had decided that gay romantic relationships were okay.

I was crushed. I was angry. As soon as I found this out, I went walking on a trail near my house and uttered a lot of choice words that I won’t share on here. I also called him and left a voicemail; I don’t really remember what I said, I think I exercised a lot of self-control, though.

I felt like my entire worldview had been shattered. Pretty much most of what I had come to believe about homosexuality was what this guy had believed. And yet I didn’t want to think gay relationships were okay, so for this guy to come to this conclusion threw me into a tailspin. I wondered if everything I believed was wrong and if I would end up with a similar conclusion as him. It also meant that our mentoring relationship was over. It’s not that there can’t be mentoring relationships with people who disagree about something, but just given the dynamics of our relationship this was too important of an issue for me to still think of him as a mentor.

It just felt like the person I looked up to the most had let me down. While he probably could have talked to me sooner about everything, he didn’t let me down. It was his right to come to this decision. And it turned out that he was wrestling with this the entire time he was mentoring me, but he intentionally (and wisely) kept it from me. If he had been more open about his doubts, I don’t think  I would have let him help me in other areas of my life.

After I got back from the trail, I called up one of my friends and bawled to her for maybe 20 minutes on the phone. Then I crawled into my bed, prayed to Jesus to help me, and fell asleep for maybe 45 minutes.

When I woke up, I felt much better. (By the way, I process things very fast). And the first thought that came to my mind was, “Tony, it’s time for you to own up on your beliefs. No longer can you believe simply what your mentor believes. You have to believe what you believe.” This was the first time I felt like my beliefs about homosexuality were my own.

Now two(ish) years later, I got to enjoy fellowship with my Christian brother. Yes, I said Christian brother. I know people that would have problems with that. I know people that think if you’re a Christian, you can’t think gay relationships are okay much less be in one yourself!

But I just simply can’t believe this. I have to believe that these people are still Christians – they profess Christ and believe that He died and rose for them.

How can I think these people aren’t Christians when I see the fruit of the spirit in their lives? When I see their visible love for Jesus?  When I feel supported and loved as a fellow a Christian?

I will believe they are still Christians, and I think it is dangerous and asking for judgment on me to reflexively think otherwise. Even though I do think their biblical interpretation and theology of homosexuality are incorrect, don’t we all have beliefs and ways we live our lives that are incorrect? Aren’t I asking judgment of my own salvation if I judge the salvation of someone else because we disagree on the morality of something?

Also, how can I claim that I 100% know that I’m right? What if my biblical interpretation is wrong? I don’t think it is but what if?

Some people will say, “But Christians in gay relationships have unrepentant sin, so they must not be a Christian.” I don’t really understand this. Even if they do have unrepentant sin for being in a gay relationship, don’t we all have unrepentant sin in our lives? Wouldn’t it be fairly arrogant of me to claim that I am repentant of all my sin so I’m a Christian, but so-and-so in a gay relationship clearly aren’t so they aren’t Christians?

I think God’s grace is bigger than we can ever imagine. I do think it only comes through Jesus Christ and His death on the Cross, but I think when we start building boundaries about to whom His grace applies, we are stepping into the territory of God’s authority.

I’m not saying that I think all churches should ordain gay relationships; I think, just like so many issues, we can have disagreement. And I haven’t clearly worked out whether or not a church that doesn’t endorse gay romantic relationsihps should bar or remove someone from membership who is in one. There’s a lot of ecclesiology issues related to homosexuality that need to be worked out.

But I do know, that as my former mentor was saying on Wednesday, that Christ has called His Church to unity. And I think that, even when it comes to difference of opinion concerning gay relationships, we can still have unity and still call each other brother and sister. Sure, I will still express my opinion, I will still argue my position, but I will never question someone’s salvation because of their beliefs about homosexuality. I know this is controversial, I’m just saying what I currently believe to be true. From knowing them, I just can’t think that these people I know, who affirm or are in gay relationships, aren’t Christians.

-Tony

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8 thoughts on “when Christians disagree

  1. As a Roman Catholic, I believe that contraception is wrong. The vast majority of Protestants do not. In this position, I have never had a difficulty considering people who approve same sex relationships to be true Christians.

  2. Man, really good stuff. Thanks, you guys. Totally agree with the above post. Love everything about not being judgmental. This was my slightly tangental thought that the post prompted (derived largely from the shift toward discussion of ordination in the last two paragraphs):

    For a long time now, I’ve had little problem saying (at a personal level) “Heck, I have no certainty about whether gay romantic relationships are okay… I can’t judge them.. I don’t know everything, so may God simply convict them if they’re wrong…” And when, on occasion, I have felt more convicted about it being unbiblical, the last phrase of that quote has still felt like a safe place to which I could retreat — a phrase that kept things from getting too messy.
    However, sometime last year I talked with a prof whose church decided it was okay to allow congregation members to be in committed gay romantic relationships. For better or worse, I suddenly got very uncomfortable. It wasn’t til I read this post that I realized I’m being a bit inconsistent – and I feel challenged toward further thought.
    Why, if I’m okay with ambiguity at a personal level, am I not okay with ambiguity in the church? Or if I’m not okay with ambiguity in the church, why do I don a worried expression and shrug off my doubts when I hear about a gay friend who’s decided to pursue a romantic relationship? Granted, the personal and the pastoral responses serve different purposes and may differ, but congregational opinions often hold sway in these matters and maybe I need to think it through better.
    So I feel like I’ve been drug back to the drawing board: What is the depth and breadth of my appreciation for hermeneutical/interpretive variation? What are its limits? For a while now, I have felt super hesitant to speak ANY sort of spiritual “constructive criticism” to ANY Christian because of my own relatively recent personal doubts about faith. I’ve brushed up against the limits of my own knowledge and found it humbling. But if the Body of Christ is called to hold each other up and exhort one another, am I kind of shrugging off responsibility by resisting forming a firm opinion about it?

    On a slightly different note, one thing I keep coming back to is this: for these fellow Christians who believe same-sex romance is okay and can defend that belief, they aren’t technically in unrepentant sin, right? Even if it’s wrong, if they truly believe it’s NOT wrong, are they really in unrepentant sin? … Might it be something more like “unacknowledged” sin? (the assumption being that this is a potential grey area and that they would repent and stop if it became very clear to them that it was indeed sin). But then maybe that’s too relativistic? Or too wimpy a belief in the Spirit’s convicting power? And do we say that it’s okay for the sake of humility (because we “can’t know”)? Sigh… I don’t know. Just some rambly thoughts. I’d welcome responding thoughts if you have them.

    • I am one of those people that am gay, christian, and absolutely believe same-sex romance is just fine and am happy to defend it. 1) I reject the notion that it is a sin or even unacknowledged sin. 2) The fact that Jesus in his entire life said absolutely zero about being gay tells you how important an issue it was 3) if everyone concentrated on loving their neighbor, feeding the poor, helping the sick, helping the needy instead of caring that two people of the same sex love each the world would be a much better place

  3. some thoughts….
    “Even if it’s wrong, if they truly believe it’s NOT wrong, are they really in unrepentant sin”. This logic would justify abortion, pre-marital sex, etc. Depending on how they grew up and what they were taught, they might be less culpable for their sins (if they didn’t grow up in the Church or whatever) but a sin is a sin regardless of one’s awareness of it or acceptance that it is a sin.

    “Even if they do have unrepentant sin for being in a gay relationship, don’t we all have unrepentant sin in our lives” The difference is that we should try to have the humility to accept that what we do is sinful when we are made aware of it (internally or from others), active homosexuals refuse to acknowledge that homosexual acts are wrong. St. Paul didn’t have a problem telling the Corinthians to expel the man who was sleeping with his father’s wife. That doesn’t mean the other Corinthians were sinless or that they were fully aware of all of their sins and 100% effective in overcoming them. But sin that’s made public needs to be dealt with in the church. That doesn’t mean those remaining in the church will all necessarily go to heaven either. Someone who covers up his or her sins and is still in the church is probably worse off than someone excommunicated. But the Church can only act on what she knows and she must act on what she knows.

    All this being said, that doesn’t mean we can say “so and so is going to hell because of this or that sin” because we don’t know their hearts and we don’t know God’s judgments. On the other hand, we still need to call sin sin.

    someone somewhere tied in ecclesiology with all of this and I think that’s crux of the issue. What does the church do when someone lives in sin and refuses to acknowledge it is sin? So this will depend on what church one belongs to and all that.

    • a couple points to consider 1) “sin is a sin regardless of one’s awareness of it or acceptance that it is a sin”, Please keep in mind there are approximately 6,000 different religions in the world and approximately 38,000 different christian sects. You touch on this a little with “this will depend on what church one belongs” There is significant disagreement among major sects about the nature of the holy trinity, whether you need to be baptized, and even the planet Kolob (do you consider mormons christians?). 2) It would be even more accurate to say that “your particular sect considers x a sin at this time” because the theology of every church changes over time. (A little tangent, George Carlin does a great bit on the catholic church and how eating meat on Friday was a mortal sin and if you did you went to hell and then suddenly it wasn’t. What happened to the ones in hell left holding the bag for eating meat when it was a sin, it’s hilarious. Look it up). As late as 1866 The Holy Office of Pope Pius IX affirmed that, subject to conditions, it was not against divine law for a slave to be sold, bought or exchanged. Think about that. For 1800 years the Catholic Church was just fine with slavery. They finally changed, but they were wrong for 1800+ years. 3) It is usally the smaller denominations that are far more likely to actively debate what the bible says, debate what is important from a social justice standpoint and debate what is the nature of sin. Almost all social issues have been championed by the smaller denominations first. As an example, it was the quakers in the US that led the fight against slavery, while the catholic church did little or nothing. It is the smaller denominations who are leading the discussions now on whether women should be ordained, and whether being gay is a sin, or being in a gay relationship is gay and challenging the status quo. Large sects like the catholic church (don’t mean to pick on them, just using them as one example) are large bureaucratic organizations more concerned with the status quo than with what it right. Bottom line just because you think “active homosexuals refuse to acknowledge that homosexual acts are wrong” doesn’t make it a true statement for everyone. . It can just as easily be that other people have researched, discussed, wrestled with, analyzed etc. the issue and came up with a different perspective and, as in my case, completely reject the notion that homosexual acts are wrong.

      • Though not making a point about sin or not (I agree it’s better to speak about loving or not) I think we don’t need to mix up ideas . It’s certain that are many religions and sects but you may believe in one as the way God have made himself known to his children. If you believe (not an imposition) this, even if Jesus didn’t specifically said that kidnapping someone to get money is a sin, you know it’s not good and it’s under the right interpretation of ‘loving God and loving your neighbour”. We may discuss about same sex relationships trying to find the best answer (which doesn’t have to be the one we like the best. If we make our own religion then we don’t believe but in ourselves). I think many of the posts within this blog have been deep and inspiring, not to mention “that they are not aligned with easy options for discussion”. That deserves my respect and even more my gratitude.

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