Some are certain they know what they believe – on each end of the spectrum. They will have the most difficulty I'm afraid with my proposal. I know what I think, but I'm not a zealot for it. I'm more interested in discovering what the “in love” part of “speaking the truth in love” is all about. And it seems to me ironic that the vast majority of churches have found ways to live with deep divisions over war and violence, yet we can't find a way to to that around these issues (which affect far fewer of our members than war and violence do). I know we haven't always dealt with war and violence in good faith in our churches, anymore than we have sexuality. But we have managed to do it and the peace message has seasoned the gospel for many members.
Some of us think that forms of sexual expression other than married heterosexual are not what God intends for us. Others are sure this spectrum of sexual difference is created and blessed by God, if not many members of the church. Yet this spectrum exists and real people's lives are on the line. These relationships can exhibit the love and self-giving that we all hope for in our closest relationships. What if those who do not affirm the spectrum outside of married sexuality accept that others' preferred sexual expressions are perhaps the best and only way they can find love (for all the multitudinous reasons we scarcely understand)1 and as such ought to be cared for and nurtured. If the spectrum is indeed a result of sin, and I mean here the power of sin unleashed through Adam and Eve's “fall” not individual sin, it may be viewed as a tragic necessity some of us experience. All our sexuality is broken, hetero- as well as others. Thus care and nurture is not offered from a position of superiority or “rightness” but rather from a humble recognition that all of us are (hopefully) moving toward greater sexual wholeness in this life (as far as possible) and need each other in this journey even as we hope for a full experience of that wholeness in the next life.
The folks who experience and practice yearnings for sexual expressions outside the married heterosexual form are, from this perspective, no more or less broken than the rest of us. In so far as they are seeking to live for Christ and by God's grace they should serve in all forms of leadership in the church. There is no case it seems to me for denying them the right to share their gifts with the Body of Christ.
Others of us want to affirm the spectrum of sexual expression as a good gift of the God the Creator. He made us this way, after all. Our right to live out the form of sexual expression we choose ought to be guaranteed and codified in civil law. What if these folks could accept that the care and nurture as described above are the best those folks can offer at present. If we can serve God in leadership in the church and experience such welcome and care, can we find common ground in our mutual search for sexual wholeness with our married hetero-only brothers and sisters. If the point is to recognize that we do not and likely will not agree on our moral evaluations of all these forms of sexual expression yet try to remain together even in deep disagreement, if we can come together around our mutual struggle for sexual maturity we just might be able to do it. And in doing this we might just gain some new insights neither of us would have come to on their own.
Can traditional marriage folk give up they strongly believe to be “right” and welcome and embrace those supporting and engaging in the spectrum of sexual expressions in a common search for sexual wholeness? Can they share leadership in the church with such folks? In short, can they be open to real relationships with those very different from themselves?
Can the full spectrum folk live in community with those who cannot and do not affirm their sexual expression even as they accept them as full partners in faith and ministry? Can both groups live together in midst of deep disagreement and accept that the witness of this community-amid-deep-disagreement may be the most powerful witness we can offer a fractured and divided world? In short, can they be open to real relationships with those very different from themselves?
As I said, I know this proposal will not likely satisfy anyone, much less everyone. Indeed, satisfying everyone does not seem possible at present. But it does seem to me to offer at the beginnings of a way forward that allows everyone to be who they are and believe what they believe about sexuality. Each side will have to compromise something important to them but will do so out of regard for the “others” who are not where they are. Vigorous but hopefully increasingly healthy conversation will continue. New insight we cannot presently envision may emerge. And in our hanging together rather than succumbing to the usual practice of division and name-calling we just may offer a witness to world not possible but for our deep differences on these matters.
In 1 Cor.6 Paul admonishes the Corinthian Christians: “Why not rather be wronged? Why not rather be defrauded?” when it sinned against the unity of the Body of Christ by taking matters publically to court rather than resolving them between themselves. What am I willing to be wronged about for sake of the unity of the Body? What are you willing to be wronged about for the sake of the unity of the Body? Is this even something we can consider? I hope so. Because I don't see any other way for unity to prevail within the truth of who we are and are called to be in Christ. I may be wrong. I probably said badly what I'm trying to say. I hope I haven't unwittingly offended anyone. But if I have I apologize in advance. I realize I have skated over matters about which so much more conversation and prayer are needed. But this is what it is. If you find it helpful, great. If not, delete it and move on to better analyses and alternatives! Godspeed.
1 See David Fitch's fine reflection on this at http://www.reclaimingthemission.com/blog/cxm0oc0ecwx91k4zluolnifaf55pui.