We need to talk about sexuality. In a religious context, in our churches, we need to talk about homosexuality, heterosexuality, and sexuality in general. We need to talk about because to have these kinds of conversations (the difficult ones) is basic to what it means to be a part of a church community.
What is the purpose of being a part of a church? What is it that we look to gain and have in joining a group that is somewhat connected by an agreed upon belief in the divine? For some it may be to feel good, to feel connected, and to feel accepted. There are churches that do that. These are churches that have worship services that only speak of joy and bliss of believing in God. This is what the scholar Bill Renstimpy calls a, “Happy, Happy, Joy, Joy” church (look him up, he has done great work on the presence of God in all things, especially logs – big, heavy, and wood).
I believe that there is more to being a church than simply feeling happy and joyful. As you study the texts that are supposed to be showing and teaching us about God and Jesus (what many people call the Bible), you will find that having faith is not just about being happy, but it is about growing, being better, and deepening who you are. In Proverbs we hear the call of wisdom pulling us to learn and grow in our knowledge and our humility. In the Psalms we hear deep philosophical questions around life, suffering, joy, and the presence of God. Jesus calls people to be better with their actions and their faith. The prophets call societies to be better in the ways that they follow God and take care of the poor, widows, and orphans. Paul calls himself to be better as he is frustrated again and again by over-permissive and non-permissive Christians. There is a drive and a desire not just to feel the joy of believing and having a relationship with God, but also to deepen that relationship with God. In addition to this there is a drive towards deepening our relationships with others, and in being a better person.
This is why we need to talk about sexuality.
Actually, this is why we need to have difficult conversations in general in church communities. Churches need to be those places where you can voice your questions and your doubts. They need to be those places where you can push back against the common, accepted views of the time and you feel that you will still be loved and accepted. Churches are the places where you should be able to voice uncertainty and questions that you face in your life and in society and ask others to help you with your uncertainty and find the presence of God in the asking and wondering.
Now there may be some who have no uncertainty, who do not have any doubts or questions and know what they know without hesitation. These are super-Christians who are perfect and pious in every way (and are very boring). These kind of Christians tend t o live in a cave and have no contact with society, or have a wonderful ability to lie to themselves about their lives. As for the rest of us, we need to talk.
So when I say that we need to talk about sexuality, I would add that there are other things we need to talk about as well. We need to talk about abortion, war, legalized drugs, immigration, poverty, the death penalty, racism, and the prevalent use of glitter in our society (that is the WORST!). I’m not saying we need to take a stand, or a position, but we need to talk. Those things that become polarizing in so many other aspects of our society are those very things that we should, in the church context, be able to discuss, pray over, and talk about. This is a spiritual practice in its own right. It is the mark of a mature and growing church. We need to talk.
So lets start with sexuality.
I suggest that we start with sexuality because it is something that all of us encounter to one degree or another. We are sexual beings who have feelings of attraction towards others. It might be easiest to start with homosexuality, but the reality is that we are not talking about “them,” or “others,” but ourselves. We are talking about the attractions we have and that we are indeed sexual beings.
Some may say, “Pastor, you are going too far. We would rather discuss the different hymnals that we have used throughout the decades, but homosexuality does not effect us, it does not challenge us, and it is not a part of our lives.”
If you were to say something like this to me my first response would very likely be about 5 minutes of astonished, incredulous silence. Then, after a stiff drink, I would proceed to tell you why it is important to talk about sexuality (and specifically homosexuality) in the church:
1. We live in a world of which homosexuality is quickly becoming accepted.
As more and more states legalize gay marriage, as more and more family members, friends, and acquaintances are coming out, homosexuality is becoming a reality of life that we cannot ignore. If you have not yet, the time will come when you will have to decide on a personal level if you are going to judge, exclude, look down on, accept, embrace, or celebrate with someone who you know is gay. It is not something that you can ignore.
2. It is not a choice.
You can’t “pray the gay away,” you can’t choose to love someone that you aren’t attracted to. It is not a choice. I really don’t need to say more about this, do I?
3. There are many confessing Christians who also happen to be gay.
As a Baptist I believe that it is important to uphold the notion of the priesthood of the believer as well as the idea of soul freedom. Basically this means that I cannot tell someone if they are or are not a Christian. If someone says that he or she has accepted Christ as savior and follow his call and lead, I cannot tell that individual that he or she is wrong. If that person professes to be gay and claims that after much prayer and study they believe that their homosexuality is not a sin, then it becomes my struggle to wrestle with, hence… we need to talk. There are many gay Christians and they are not going away, or embracing celibacy, but living fully in their sexual orientation as well as in their faith as a Christian.
4. The safe way is not always the best way.
By this I mean ignoring it and hoping that the issue never comes up. I believe that there are many churches full of good, loving, fuzzy, committed Christians who dread the day this topic emerges in their congregation. Not because they are against it but because they are afraid of what it might do to the congregation. I believe there are many good pastors leading their churches and hoping no one ever asks what the church believes about homosexuality. Not because they are looking to condemn it, but because they are afraid. The safe approach would be to keep our head in the sand, to ignore the topic, and to hope it never comes up.
This is a boring, vanilla church. A church that cannot take a chance with a conversation is a church that cannot take a chance with following God’s call. This is a church that admires the cross and likes to talk about the love of God but is not willing to go on the cross or share and experience the love of God. The safe path leads to a shallow practice of faith as a congregation. A shallow faith produces shallow Christians. We need to talk.
If you want church to be a place where doctrine and dogma is dictated and people simply receive truths without question then you can disregard this writing. Yet if you want church to be a place where people grow in their faith, where they struggle and question and wonder, then we need to talk. I hope the tens of thousands of churches out there that have been avoiding this conversation can take a chance and talk. I pray for the courage and strength of the pastors and other church leaders. I pray for the presence of the Holy Spirit. I pray that Christians will be able to listen and will be able to talk. Wouldn’t that be an amazing witness to the rest of the world?
Now if we could figure out how to abolish glitter we would be on a great path.