Southern Baptist Today
The majority of messengers has spoken. In a resolution adopted by the SBC in San Antonia, homosexuality was condemned as “deviant,” “a manifestation of depraved nature,” and “a violation and perversion of divine standards.”
Appropriately, the resolution established as a priority concern our Christian response as Southern Baptists to those within our congregations and communities who are homosexual, that is, those whose primary sexual attraction is directed toward those of the same gender.
I do not question that the resolution represents the majority opinion of Southern Baptists. I do question whether God’s purpose of love and justice is served by such a resolution.
It is a time for listening, not only listening to pronouncements, but listening to the experience of homosexuals. Too long we have talked to them or about them. Needed, as well, is the grace to hear the story of their hopes and fears.
Recently I received this unsigned letter from a member of the congregation I serve. This poignant voice in writing invites us into the anguish of a soul:
Some of us, who the church has driven to pretense of exile, are waiting to hear whether we are really the children of God or merely the skeletons in the family closet. Are we, too, made in the image of God or are we some grotesque cosmic error? The crucial issue is not what we do or refrain from doing. That is a different matter. The issue is what we are, and whether our acceptance as participants in the community of faith is, as it often seems, contingent upon our letting others know who we are. We have no record of Jesus having spoken directly to our situation. The Old Testament and the SBC are unequivocal. Is “abomination” the final word?
— A Familiar Stranger
This letter came to me as pastor, and I write as a pastor. In fact, my compulsion to write and speak comes from the stories of pathos and promise I have been privileged to hear. Let me generalize from actual, specific, pastoral experiences.
Imagine, with this “familiar stranger,” hearing over and over that homosexuality is a sin, knowing that you did not choose to be homosexual. Or, what would it be like growing up feeling peculiar, different, a misfit, finding it so hard to love yourself, to feel loved by others or even by God? How would it be to visit your family, feeling the continued pressure to conceal that dimension of who you are?
Imagine the dilemma of struggling constantly with the decision to tell or not to tell . . . whom can I trust . . . what is the cost of opening the “closet door?” . . . if I come out to the closet, will I have to come out of the church as well? How would it be to hold a public, controversial job always wondering if your homosexuality would be discovered and used against you?
Suppose, for example, you are a person who has made significant contributions to the community. You are charged with sodomy. The charge, including your name, makes the front page of the newspaper. Yet you are never convicted.
Can you grasp the experience of being seen through refracted rays of the typical stereotypes? The stereotypes are familiar: all gay men are effeminate; lesbians are haters of men; all homosexuals are neurotic, immature and irresponsible; they know nothing of love, only lust; homosexuals are responsible for AIDS; they are out to molest children and undermine morality.
Let’s return to the words of the “familiar stranger.” This person’s letter raises for the church questions filled with “hope and terror.” Is his/her sexuality truly a gift from God, a grace to be received with gratitude? Is he/she a child of God, bearing the image and capacity of God to love and be loved? Or, is he/she some grotesque cosmic error?
Beneath these questions is the crucial question: Is a person’s basic sexual orientation given, thereby discovered, or is it chosen? Specifically, does an individual choose to be homosexual or discover himself/herself homosexual? Most modern informed opinions conclude—- and it is my conclusion—- that one’s basic sexual orientation is a given and cannot be changed at will. Behavior can be changed, controlled and managed; one’s essential sexual preference cannot.
If that is true, how cruel of the church to judge as an “abomination” what is given in the physical and emotional development of a person. How uncharacteristic of God to allow a few to be inherently homosexual, yet condemn any acknowledgement and responsible, caring expression of that gift.
But many of you would counter: “Homosexual acts are condemned in scripture as the abomination of God.” True, the Bible, when referring to homosexual acts, does condemn them as expressions of lust and pagan idolatry. Romans 1:24–27 is the clearest illustration. Both in this passage and in general, scripture confronts as wrong all exploitative, impersonal, self-centered, promiscuous sexual acts—whether heterosexual or homosexual.
So, for good reason, we are alarmed by the promiscuous activity of many homosexuals. But so are responsible gays. Are we equally alarmed over the widespread unfaithful, promiscuous heterosexual behavior? Both are confronted as destructive and sinful in scripture.
Yet, the Bible does not condemn homosexuality as a sexual orientation. It is silent on the issue. To be homosexual constitutionally is a rather recent understanding. The biblical writers likely assumed that everyone was basically heterosexual. Therefore, any homosexual acts would be viewed as totally “unnatural,” going against the grain of creation.
Another silence. The Bible does not say anything one way or another about long-term, committed, caring homosexual relationships.
There is a third silence. Jesus, our most authoritative biblical Word made flesh, made no known reference to homosexuality.
Clearly, homosexuality is not a prominent issue in the Bible. I suspect that our culturally induced fear and repulsion of homosexuality prompts us to generalize upon a few selected passages. Surely the greater biblical mandate is to love homosexual persons—to confront behavior when it is destructive, to understand the pain of their oppression, to address the rejected and condemned, both straight and gay, with the love of Christ.
This is a time for listening. Let our Christian responses to homosexuality be shared clearly, boldly, gracefully, humbly in the best spirit of our Baptist heritage of free expression. Homosexuality is not an “issue,” it is people. As a pastor, drawing from pastoral experience, I urge that we listen for the voice of God—not only in one another’s witness, not only in the witness of scripture, but in the storied struggle of our neighbor, the gay and lesbian in our midst.