I’d like to warn that in this post I’ll be talking about homophobic views that I used to hold, but don’t anymore. I’d like to apologise for the hurt that’s been caused by my own views on sexual orientation and by the teaching of the church.
In today’s blog post I thought I would answer a question I’ve been asked often, particularly in the last six months: ‘How can you be a Christian but be okay with homosexuality?’ When I’ve been asked this question I’m normally more interested in telling a story about how my ideas about sexual orientation have developed, rather than trying to argue my views. I just don’t think that arguing helps us understand people who think differently to us. I think it just makes us become more extreme in our own views and makes us hold onto our own views more tightly. So in answering this question I’d like to explain where I started and how my beliefs have changed.
When I left home in Melbourne and went to live in Ballarat I had fairly conservative Christian views on sexual orientation. I didn’t feel like I hated gay or lesbian people, but I believed God had a problem with them. When I moved to Ballarat to go to university started having more to do with gay and lesbian people (and some bisexual and transgender people, but not as many). I guess I was initially pretty confronted by the presence of so many people who were gay – I just felt a sense of revulsion by the idea. I started thinking, well I need to get over that if I am going to love people as a Christian, even if I don’t agree with their sexuality. So I just decided that instead of feeling revolted I was going to consciously choose to relax when I was around gay people instead of reacting with revulsion – even if it was just internal revulsion.
After I moved to Melbourne to join the community at Urban Seed I did a trip to Sydney, where I was visiting Hope Street. (Hope Street was an organisation doing similar urban mission work to Urban Seed, and a few of us were visiting to see what we could learn.) One of the neighbourhoods where they were working was Darlinghurst, where there is a large gay community, and they were planting a church in the gay community.
Mike Hercock, who was the pastor of the church was talking about how a big problem for gay Christians who they were coming across was that they split their life in two. He wasn’t talking about whether it was right or not for them to be in same sex relationships, but talking about them being able to be honest about who they were. In church spaces they couldn’t be honest about their sexual orientation and in the gay community they couldn’t be honest about their faith. Often because they separated it out (often trying to suppress their sexuality) they ended up doing things in their sex lives that they didn’t agree with like having random sexual encounters with various different people.
Mike was talking about trying to make a space where people could be honest about who they actually are and bring their whole self to God. He was also saying that we should be allowing gay marriages, because marriage was something that could help gay people to have stronger and more committed relationships, just like heterosexual people can. That was what convinced me about gay marriage, even though I still had a view that homosexuality was sinful. It was more about reducing the harm caused to gay people.
When I became more involved with the church community at Collins Street Baptist Church we had a number of people in the congregation who were gay or lesbian, mostly people who believed God had no problem with homosexuality. I started reading Biblical scholarship from people who thought that the understanding of sexuality in the ancient world was so different to ours that the Bible couldn’t be talking about contemporary homosexuality. It was being suggested that in the ancient world the understanding of sexuality was that it was about men dominating women through sex.
The way they thought about it was that a man dominated another person (whether male or female) by penetrating them. I think there is content throughout the Bible that undermines that patriarchal worldview, particularly in the dignity that Jesus gives to women. But if that is true, it’s likely that the Biblical authors would have thought of of two men having sex as one man dominating another man – like in the Sodom and Gomorrah story, where the locals want to rape the three angelic visitors.
I also think that the way Jesus and the early church responded to eunuchs is instructive, because they are a sexual minority that was known of in Jesus’ world. In the part of scripture where Jesus is talking about marriage, and saying that a man and a woman become one, he then goes on to say that there are exceptions to that pattern. (He accepts that some people will find it hard to hear this.) But he acknowledges that there are some people who have been born eunuchs, there are some who have become eunuchs because they’ve been mutilated by others, and there are some who live like eunuchs for the sake of their ministry. (I think here he’s putting himself in the category of eunuch, if as traditions suggests, Jesus was celibate.) He says this even though the Torah says that eunuchs have no place in the Jewish community.
Later, when Philip meets a eunuch from the
Ethiopian royal court, that eunuch is reading a scroll where the prophet Isaiah predicts a time when there will be a place for eunuchs in the Jewish community. The eunuch asks if there is anything to stop him being baptised, and Philip baptises him right there.
As I was saying, this year I’ve had a number of conversations with other Christians on this topic, normally with people who still hold the more conservative views on sexual orientation. What I’ve found is that when we’ve been able to have a talk face to face, over the phone or in a private chat we’ve each been able to better appreciate where the other is coming from. In the public forum of Facebook or Twitter I think it is a lot easier to just get into arguments. So if you disagree with my views and would like to chat with me about this topic and how my views have developed, feel free to let me know.