This past Mother’s Day I was reminded again of how fortunate I am to have been blessed with a wonderful family. My husband and I have four children, and we are so proud of each of them.
Our oldest son recently was baptized after doing some intense soul-searching about his faith and his commitment to the church. I am proud of him for taking this step and so happy that he is part of the Christian community and part of a loving and supportive church community. My son is also in a serious relationship with someone who loves him. It is a pleasure to see them together and see how close they have become. They are both at a great stage in life—still studying and figuring out what their career paths will be, both committed to the church, both with their whole lives ahead of them and countless opportunities. My son is also gay.
This is something we have talked about with family and some of our closer friends, and we received lots of support. I know, however, that there are others who would find it hard to support our son and the fact that he is part of a church. They would find it hard to consider a marriage relationship for him, because of the fact that he is gay.
How do we talk about such a sensitive issue in the church? I sometimes wonder why it is such a sensitive, controversial issue, when oppression, greed, violence and separation from God are some of the issues that would loom larger in my mind. However, the churches are facing this issue. If we are looking at discernment, how can we gently and openly look at this together as God’s people? I think it will take some patience and prayer—and tolerance.
It would be hurtful if others reject my son, especially if they don’t take the time to get to know him and talk to him about his faith and his life. I don’t want these feelings to cause hardship and separate friends. I hope that I can talk and listen with a loving heart, even if some of the words might be hurtful to my son or me. This will take some work on my part. I would also hope for respect and openness to our story and the stories of countless others who have not had the support we have known, and the willingness to listen with a loving heart.
Our son came out to us about two years ago, and to us it wasn’t a total surprise. At times when he was growing up, we wondered how he was feeling about his sexual identity.
When we told our family the news, they were also accepting and affirming. I firmly believe that sexual identity is not a choice—who would choose a “lifestyle” that often leads to ridicule, shame and rejection? This is not something that you want for your child, or that you think of when you dream of your child’s future. But hearing this news did not change our love for and acceptance of him and did not change who he is in our eyes.
Thankfully, our family’s love for him has not changed as well. We are thankful for the support we have received and don’t want to take it for granted. This support has allowed me to be open in writing about our experience.
Getting to know others who have a family member of a different sexual orientation or identity has helped us to realize that this acceptance is not everybody’s experience. Probably the majority of these people face some form of flagrant or subtle rejection from family, friends and their church.
People of a different sexual orientation can have as much to offer the church as any other church member. Unfortunately, many have experienced rejection and have felt unwelcome if they are open about their sexual identity.
I know the church has taken several views on the issue of homosexuality and sexual orientation. To some it is sin—people of a different sexual orientation are perverse and immoral. Others “reject the sin but not the sinner.” There is the belief that people of a different sexual orientation need help, that they can be saved and can change their ways.
One view is that it is acceptable to be gay as long as one is not “practicing.” This view says there is no room for them to be part of the church, and definitely not for them to be married.
I believe that my son is a child of God and that God welcomes him into the church, just as He would anyone else who loves Him. I could be biased—this is my son after all, and I do think that God’s family is inclusive not exclusive. Some may say that people in the church who have a family member who is of a different sexual orientation falsely interpret scripture to justify their loved one’s “lifestyle,” or that they reject scripture that speaks to this issue. Instead, I think that we have a better understanding of just how much our loved ones are like everyone else before God, and of how there is no need to reject scripture or twist God’s word to make this claim.
How many times in the gospels do we see Jesus welcoming the “rejected” into his fold, if they are willing to follow him? The tax collectors, women, and the Samaritans were rejected by the Pharisees, who were the religious leaders of the day. When Jesus was asked about which commandments to follow (Matt. 19:18) and which was the greatest commandment (Matt. 22:37), there is mention both times to “love your neighbor as yourself.” Jesus stated that the teachings of the Law and the Prophets were summarized in that commandment.
In Jesus’ words to the crowds who followed him, there was no talk about same-sex relations. There was talk about adultery, murder, justice, greed, but there was no mention that it is sinful to have a loving relationship between two men or two women. Other biblical references to same sex relations seem to refer to lustful, oppressive, loveless relations, not loving, committed relationships.
Interpretation of scripture involves looking at the context in which these words were written. As a community of believers, we do this with scriptural references and we look to our church leaders and biblical scholars to help us with this task.
I recently watched a video in which Matthew Vines discusses the topic, “The Gay Debate – the Bible and Homosexuality.” (He has also written a book on this topic.) This video discusses several scriptural references in terms of their biblical context and their meaning today. Leviticus 18 contains 30 verses about unlawful sexual relationships. In that list, verse 22 is the only mention of same-sex relations; the other verses refer to other sexual relationships.
Leviticus contains many other detailed laws of living that we do not follow in our lives today. Verse 19:19 instructs us not wear clothing woven of two kinds of material, and verse 13:46 states that those who have a sore on their head are unclean and must live alone. These verses must have had some meaning in the context in which they were given, but today we wear polyester/cotton blends and don’t shun those who have diseases.
Why are those few scriptural references to same-sex relations pulled out of the thousands of verses in the Bible and used to divide churches and families, causing people to feel rejected and unloved? Leviticus contains 27 chapters and hundreds of verses about the laws for the Israelites, and yet we pick out one verse as the truth about homosexuality and we consider that many other verses are not speaking to our context today. We should not ignore the Old Testament, but as Christians we believe that Jesus has brought us the new Law to follow as people of God.
In the story of Sodom and Gomorrah (Gen. 19), the sin in verse 5 refers to forceful and oppressive relations; there is no mention of loving relationships between partners of the same sex. That sinful behaviour, which seems to refer to gang rape, would be sinful if it was heterosexual or same sex.
Paul’s letter to the Romans refers to shameful lusts and sexual immorality—this does not refer to loving and committed relationships between same-sex partners. There is also other advice in Paul’s letters that we interpret to speak to the context of the day but do not take as law for our lives today. (For example, he exhorts slaves to respect their masters and tells women to wear head coverings and not speak out in church.) We take a lot from Paul’s writings and apply it to our lives today, but we also need to look at these letters in context and consider them in regards to Paul’s audience.
As we are working on becoming God’s faithful church today, I would like to make some suggestions:
- If you haven’t already, get to know someone in your church who is of a different sexual orientation. Determine for yourself if the aversion to homosexuality is really rooted in scripture or rather is a reaction to what is seen to be out of the norm. Is sexual orientation such a divisive issue in the church because some people fear the unknown or reject people whom they have not even bothered to get to know? My son has brown eyes and brown hair and is about 5 ft. 11 inches and he is gay. All of these things can describe my son, but they do not define him any more than my height, weight and the fact that I am heterosexual define me. Getting to know someone as a person means there is no need to label that person as heterosexual, homosexual, Native, disabled or any other labels.
- Re-read scripture and pray for God’s guidance in interpreting His word for us today. Ask yourself these questions: Do any of these scriptural references to same-sex relations denounce as sin a loving relationship between two men or two women? Why do we allow our interpretation of a few verses to divide churches and families and to exclude a whole segment of God’s children from the church? Is there anywhere in the teachings of Jesus where we find the message to persecute and exclude people of a different sexual orientation, to deny them the ability to be part of a community of believers, and to deny them the right of having a loving, committed relationship and family? It seems to me that Jesus’ message is much more about love, peace and about how his disciples are to bring these into the world. The sins of greed, oppression, false idols and hatred should be what we fear and fight against.
I hope that becoming a faithful church means asking these questions and others, and listening and caring for each other as we discern the answers. It means being able to discuss these issues in the community of believers, hopefully with patience and tolerance. It means engaging in these discussions people in our churches who are of a different sexual orientation and who are able to be open about themselves. And it means really listening to them without predetermined judgments.
My son is a child of God and is discerning God’s will for his life as a follower of Jesus, just as I am, and as others in the church are. I hope that over time these discussions about how God is speaking to us today can lead to acceptance and affirmation and can renew our ability to be together as God’s people.
Laurie Wiens, Herschel, Sask.
—Posted June 25, 2014