Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Living in Divine Tension

I was just listening to the podcast archives of new friend Jay Voorhees, and happened to catch at the end a two-year-old conversation about the homosexuality issue that raised some interesting issues for me.

For those of you who don't know, the United Methodist Church has been debating for over a decade as to whether homosexuality is sin or biology. The sides have become quite polarized, especially as small controversies about ordaining, marrying, and giving membership to "self-avowed, practicing homosexuals" have continued to bring the issue to the forefront.

In Jay's former "Methocast", he would end the show with listener comments and respond to them. On this particular episode, a listener named Dean had commented on this controversy. Conservatives have often asked those who affirm homosexual behavior as an acceptable lifestyle to simply leave the denomination, because the majority were "clearly" against them. Dean made the comment that Jesus was not in the habit of asking folks to leave like this, and that it was hurtful to be asked to leave, seemingly for the comfort of those who disagree with him. He also noted it was the majority who sent Christ to the cross.

Before I go on, let me explain where I come from. I do believe homosexual activity is a sin, according to God's Word. But I know a lot of other things are too, things that you and I both do, and I intend to give just as much grace and love to one sinner as another. That kind of love means confronting sin in people's lives, but also recognizing that it is God that changes the heart, and I can no more do that with one sin than another. There may be some other healing that needs to happen before a person can recognize a particular sin in their lives, and find the means to eliminate it. It is the church's role to give them as much help in this matter as they are willing to accept.

OK, time for the wrestling. Because my heart wants to go two different directions on this one.
(1)One of the things we do well in modern Methodism is diversity. The ability to contain diverse viewpoints within a single movement, and not excommunicate each other because we use differing baptismal rites. Having all sides at the table does allow us to learn from each other, and (hopefully) no one side believe they have it all figured out. By this sensibility, I want to say, "Yes, keep everyone together, let's talk this thing through. If we share community with all view points on this issue, we have a chance to change each other, and let God transform us all."

(2)On the other hand, I just preached this last Sunday on conflict. And as Matthew records it, Jesus does say when someone will not see their sin after multiple confrontations, it may be time to put them out of the community. By this understanding, it would make sense to seek a division in the UMC, breaking fellowship with those of the other viewpoint.

But there's something I didn't catch until today. The model Christ gives is for offenses against each other. Acting on homosexual temptations (unless you are talking about an affair) is a sin against God, and technically against the other "partner" for encouraging their sin, but not against you and me. Does it need addressed, absolutely. Mutual accountability is an important part of the being Church together. And if the person is using their "lifestyle" to divide the church, then that is an offense against others. But honestly, most folks that feel drawn towards the same sex don't have a political agenda to push (despite a very vocal group that does). They're just trying to live life as best as they can, and interpret key Scriptures differently than I do, same as I interpret the role of women in Scripture differently than most Baptists.

In the words of Veggie Tales, "We're going to get letters for this," I know. But let me say this much; I still believe homosexual activity* is a sin. But I know that persons who struggle with this temptation have just as much right and need to be in church as I do. And by staying friends and fellows, we have a chance to influence each other, hopefully for the good. But maybe living in that divine tension, where we don't have it all figured out, and we recognize that we all have our brokenness, will help us to live lives more dependent on God.

*I intentionally use the term "homosexuality" as little as possible. If we classify something as a gender orientation, then we cannot condemn the sin without attacking the identity of the person. But if we talk in terms of actions, then we can approach in a different light.