A former Lutheran pastor sharing thoughts on faith and life. Please join the conversation! I love your comments!

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Homosexuality and Breaking Open Hearts

I have come to realize lately there are underlying assumptions prevalent in this country when it comes to religion.  I can’t even say what these underlying assumptions are because they are such a part of my world that I don’t even notice them until I disagree with them.  For example, that evangelism is the highest calling of the church.  Didn’t notice that one until I started questioning it.  Recently I ran up against another one when someone called me a universalist.  I was offended for a brief second and then I thought, "why is that a bad thing?”  It depends on how you define universalism, of course, but if I can be called a universalist for believing that God’s love will ultimately prevail then I will wear that label with pride.  In this same conversation I found myself wondering if this person realized that he was arguing passionately for the belief that God really wants some people to go to hell.  Doesn't seem like something someone should cheer for. Yet, one of the underlying assumptions in this country when it comes to Christianity is that people who do not believe certain things about Jesus are going to hell. 

These underlying assumptions are powerful and sometimes the consequences are horrific.  I recently read this article http://rachelheldevans.com/win-culture-war-lose-generation-amendment-one-north-carolina .  Here is a startling quote from this blog: 
“When asked by The Barna Group what words or phrases best describe Christianity, the top response among Americans ages 16-29 was “antihomosexual.” For a staggering 91 percent of non-Christians, this was the first word that came to their mind when asked about the Christian faith. The same was true for 80 percent of young churchgoers.” 
That’s what the message of God’s love has become?  Holy Scriptures have become the anti-gay book?  An underlying assumption in American Christianity has been that the bible is “clearly” against homosexuality.   Even if this were true (which I believe it is not) why do we want to pour so much energy into fighting against someone else’s sin? 
The same article also reported that in the author’s (Rachel Held Evans) experience people under 40 tend to feel differently about homosexuality than older generations.  
That is because they have friends who are gay.  They know good people who are gay and therefore their hearts have been broken open.
It happened to me once.  I already believed that homosexual people needed to be fully welcomed into the church even including ordained leadership but then something happened that opened my heart even further.  One of my kids told me he was gay.  I don't mean one of my biological children. I was working as a pastor and if you are a pastor with a heart for young people the young people you work with find a special place in your heart.  I think of them as "my kids".  So, when one of my kids said he was gay and that he had nearly killed himself because of it, my heart was broken open.  This beautiful child of God was so surrounded by judgment and hatred that he couldn’t come to me with this news until years later.  Maybe I hadn’t made my stance on the issue clear enough.  Or maybe it was just too hard to open himself up, too hard to risk judgment again, too hard to believe amidst all those hateful messages that someone could love him and not judge him.  Maybe he was just too depressed to find the energy to speak.  
The thing is this is my kid.  So my heart was broken open in a new way.  Now when I hear messages of judgment toward homosexual people it hits my heart.  Don’t tell me my kid is worthy of condemnation any more than the rest of us.  Don’t tell me obscure references to same sex intercourse carry more weight than the many many scriptures that call us away from our greed.  Don’t tell me my faith in a loving God has anything to do with judging my kid until he doesn’t want to live anymore.  
That’s how my heart was broken open.  An open heart is a valuable thing.  This upcoming generation will have that experience more and more often because homosexual people are finding their voices.  And if those voices will break open hearts and challenge underlying assumptions then I guess that makes homosexual people a tremendous blessing to our world.  


Charlene said...

Sheri, I love your posts. Sometimes I think we should have got to talking years ago.

As I understand it, "universalism" is the belief that either everybody will go to "heaven", or that at least god wants it to be so (and if he's really all-powerful, what's to stop him from making it so?). This is clearly in line with some scriptures and clearly not in line with others. Most literalists won't accept it, near as I can tell. Thing is, it looks to me like you can have either a universalist religion, or you can accept that good people you love are going to hell (in which case your deity seems arbitrary and cruel). Maybe I'm wrong about that, but the the loving deity and the exclusive heaven (sans homosexuals and "uppity" women) seem incompatible to me.

Evelyn said...

Thanks, Sheri, for a great read. May I suggest that you check out a book authored by two of my dear friends, Joe Cobb and Leigh Anne Taylor. "Our Family Outing" is also a great read.

Sheri Ellwood said...

Thanks, Charlene. I have had similar thoughts. Thanks for the book recommendations, Evelyn. Sounds interesting!

Anonymous said...

I had to share this piece I found someplace that is from Adam Hamilton's book. I seem to be running in to so many folks who are anti-gay that I just had to find some one who thinks as I do. thanks Shari for this piece.
I once had a letter to the editor that Murial Stackley wrote, but can't seem to find it.

Southern preachers and slave owners believed the many references in the Bible permitting and regulating slavery (well over 100 verses), in both the Old and the New Testaments, were clear evidence that the institution was a part of God’s social and moral order. Abolitionist preachers argued in their sermons that the verses related to slavery in the Bible were a reflection of the cultural context and times in which the Bible was written and did not reflect God’s endorsement of slavery. They argued that there were “weightier” scriptures on justice, mercy and love that superseded those on slavery. This was the position that Lincoln himself adopted.
At the center of the divide over homosexuality today is the Bible. Conservatives and progressives “read from the same Bible and pray to the same God, and each invokes His aid against the other.”
There are a handful of Scriptures (five or eight depending upon how one counts) that specifically speak of same-sex intimacy as unacceptable to God. Conservatives or traditionalists see these as reflecting God’s timeless will for human relationships. Progressives look at these same scriptures in much the same way that progressives in the nineteenth century looked at the Bible’s teaching on slavery. They believe that these verses capture the cultural understandings and practices of sexuality in biblical times, but do not reflect God’s will for gay and lesbian people.
In my own life, it was both reading the Bible’s passages on same-sex intimacy in the same light as passages on slavery (and violence and the place of women) and coming to know gay and lesbian people that led me to see this issue differently, particularly children who grew up in my church who loved God and sought to serve Christ. As I listened to their stories I saw that they did not fit the stereotypes I had been taught about gay and lesbian people. The love they shared with others looked very much like the love I share with my wife --a deep friendship and companionship. And their faith was as authentic as that of anyone else in my congregation.
For many Christians today, particularly young adults, the handful of Bible verses related to same sex intimacy seem more like the 100 plus verses on slavery than they do the teachings of Jesus and his great commandments to love God and neighbor. Their gay and lesbian friends are people, just like them, in need of love and community. I believe that in the years ahead an increasing number of Christians, not only progressives, but also conservatives, will read the Bible’s passages regarding homosexuality as all Christians today read the Bible’s passages on slavery. And the sermons preached from America’s pulpits decrying the rights of homosexuals today will sound to future generations much like the pro-slavery sermons sound to us today.
Adam Hamilton is a United Methodist pastor and author of “When Christians Get it Wrong” (Abingdon, 2013)

Sheri Ellwood said...

Thanks for sharing the quote! There are many people who believe similarly. Unfortunately the other voices sometimes seem very loud!