Stop me if you’ve heard this one before (it’s funny because you can’t; such power!):
“Jesus lived out his earthly ministry among the marginalized and outcast, preaching a gospel of radical inclusion that upended the sinful exclusivism of the hypocritical religious elite. Today, many religious leaders are denying full acceptance to gay men and women in local congregations due to disagreements about the moral status of same-sex unions. Jesus, who embraced the stigmatized, would side with those being denied total inclusion by the judgmental majority. To be Christians, then, requires that we cast off arbitrary requirements for acceptance that were made by power-seeking Pharisees and realize that those in monogamous, faithful, loving, same-sex unions (and the LGBTQ community in general) are the new Gentiles to our self-righteous 1st century Judaism; Jesus’s table is set, and all are welcome. Refusing full inclusion to affirming gay men and women goes against the very nature of Jesus’s embodied ethic of acceptance.”
There are some good biblical/theological arguments to be made in support of sanctioning SSU’s (same-sex unions). This is not one of them. It’s not even close. If arguments were colors, this would be taupe: the world would be better off without it, and I become depressed and angry whenever it is used.
Unfortunately, it’s everywhere, and not just in fringe blogs or rash YouTube videos. Authors I deeply respect have, at times, gone on in a similar vein. In fact, the prevalence of this argument across various media makes me wonder if I’ve simply misunderstood the logical sequence and dealt only with a straw-person; it’s certainly a possibility, so please correct me if I misrepresent this particular position. However, if I’m right (fingers crossed, everybody!), then such a polemic must be put to rest in order to move forward in constructive dialogue as it avoids the central questions, cheapens the Gospel, and displaces the centrality of the biblical text in favor of foreign standards of morality.
That large paraphrase up there? I actually agree with most of it. Jesus really did align himself with the poor and marginalized, really did devote himself to the scandalous inclusion of “the other,” really did excoriate the religiously hypocritical for their wretched xenophobia. And make no mistake, such actions were not peripheral events in the grand narrative of his life – they were central to his Gospel, and are therefore central to us. I think feminist/liberation/subaltern theologians have it right: if we proclaim the Gospel without simultaneously declaring that this good news is for everyone, no exceptions, then we’ve missed it.
We Christians (especially those in positions of cultural power) don’t get to choose who is invited to the feast table. We are not the gatekeepers. We are the messengers joyfully telling everyone that the Lord wants them to come and experience the abundance of his love. To do anything less is to play the role of deluded Pharisee, and the world is right to condemn us. We must be throwing ourselves to the aid of the sinfully stigmatized, showing love to those who receive undeserved hatred, and telling them of Christ. This definitely includes the LGBTQ community in all its multiformity.
That being said, and this is the crux for me, the Gospel is not just an invitation, it’s a new way of existing. And praise God for that! He doesn’t just leave us as we were, draped in tattered rags and caked in filth. He bathes us, clothes us, and sets before us a path of obedient faithfulness, promising to walk with us every step of the way. And, as we walk, we are changed, we are challenged, and we are daily having to cast aside old behaviors and patterns of thinking.
After Jesus came to the rescue of the woman in John 8, saving her life and exposing the sins of those judging her, he didn’t walk away and yell over his shoulder, “Cool, welcome to the kingdom of God, have fun sleeping around! I love you!” He told her to “sin no more.” The rest of the New Testament is univocal in expounding on that call: if you have accepted Christ’s universally offered invitation, then you must also live as he prescribes. If you truly love him, you will obey his commands.
This is Christian discipleship at it’s most basic, which is why it is so bewildering that the aforementioned argument, in all its popularity, fails to display even a rudimentary understanding of the concept. We come to the table as we are, but by the grace of God we cannot stay as we were. There are, believe it or not, rules. There are demands, prohibitions, standards, and consequences woven into the Christian faith. The Church is not an inchoate mass of autonomous individuals that answer to no one but their own consciences.
This argument seems preoccupied with conjoining the figure of Jesus to a secular manifestation of inclusion that demands nothing from anyone except self-identification and a laissez-faire approach to community.
In contrast, the Jesus testified to in the New Testament demands everything from those who would aspire to follow him to everlasting life. When he says “sin no more,” the question becomes, “How then shall we live?” And, there you have it, we are driven back to exegesis, to mining the text to understand what Jesus requires of us, what it means to be a Christian. In this context (for me as an Evangelical), it means scouring the biblical canon to determine what it is saying about homosexuality, how that applies to the church today, and then, whether I like it or not, obeying.
Jesus is not simply the best example of inclusion in abstracto, he is the true expression of what it means to be inclusive – he is the form and character of the thing. And the inclusion he embodies is not simply blind acceptance that costs nothing, it is a lightning, wide-eyed gaze that sees us all as we are, and shakes us to our core with the good news that the God of the universe loves us and has not left us to our own bitter devices, and that the daunting sacrifice of obedience, though it require everything, leads to unfathomable abundance, namely a relationship with God and his Church. It is a free gift that still costs all that we have.
The contended argument gets it half right, but, unfortunately, “half right” is still totally wrong. When I read it, I cannot help but think that the author has given up wrestling with scripture for fear of coming away with a dislocated hip. But we must keep wrestling, lest we forfeit divine blessing. The Church is a community of those who limp, yet we walk proudly, bearing with grace the mark that we have been touched by God. We simply cannot have it any other way.
I hope we can move past the kind of shallow arguments I’ve briefly described in the past few posts and begin to, with great humility and love, press into the heart of the disagreements for the sake of truth and unity. On that point, at least, we should all be in agreement.