The Gospel Coalition posted a piece today asking whether or not Christians can “agree to disagree” on the issue of homosexuality and marriage. I deeply understand the desire for unity in the church and share it myself. I have quite a few friends who hold to a conservative view on these matters. I disagree with them, but that doesn’t mean we can’t or don’t have a relationship. But can we be in the same worshiping body? [By which I mean denominational/institutional affiliation—not a worship service] That is another question.

I am inclined to not want to “agree to disagree” on this issue. There are a couple of points at which unity is very difficult here.

1) Understanding of the Bible. Most who have an “open and accepting” view toward our LGBTQ brothers and sisters have evolved in their understanding of Scripture, based in large part upon biblical scholarship, personal study, experience, reason and prayer. Some of this scholarship is recent, much has been around awhile.

Scripture is a collection of varying books by various authors written in differing times, cultures and contexts. The very idea of “a Bible” is a later construct that the various texts don’t necessarily assume for themselves. It is also written in ancient languages to people long dead and for which we have no original manuscripts. The very realities of multiple translations, manuscript variations and the challenge of language need to always be remembered before we decide to denigrate a certain part of the population “based on the Bible.” This has proven to be abused in the past when it has come to people of color and women, and certainly in the current debate over inclusion of LGBTQ folks.

Many of those who hold to a classic “authority of Scripture” point of view, seem to have either ignored most of current biblical scholarship, or haven’t allowed its implications to sink in. Inerrancy is a rather recent way to look at a historical text [which thankfully my own denomination, the CRC, does not hold] which is itself full of variations, contradictions, and differing views on God, humanity and social norms. The notion of “Authority of Scripture” seems to get pulled out when convenient: on issues regarding women or homosexuality, for example, but completely ignored on things that are less convenient (or we simply deem no longer apply): forced marriage after a rape, stoning of children, forgiveness of debts every seven years, love of enemies, nonviolence, women being silent in church, slavery, speaking in tongues, kosher dietary restrictions, Sabbath worship, and on and on.

The Bible, while an amazing book full of divine and human wisdom, is also a product of its time and place, and often reflects that. To ignore that is simply to ignore reality. To not acknowledge that is not called “being faithful.” Being faithful is using the minds and hearts God gave us to continue to discern truth today, guided by Scripture. God did not create us as unthinking creatures who have no ability to reason on our own. The Bible is not a “life handbook” full of timeless rules that we must slavishly submit to, even if our own compassionate impulses would have us act otherwise.

We allow women to speak in church today, not because that’s what the Bible says (it doesn’t), but because that’s what common sense and compassion require. Plus, have you heard a sister preach?

2) Human compassion as an interpretive priority. While Jesus did not speak explicitly on homosexuality and sexual orientation, we do have his example of communing and eating with those who were on the margins of, or completely excluded from, the accepted religious circles of the day. This at least gives us a model, that *had* Jesus spoken on this, or were he present today, it is not unlikely that he would make a move toward inclusion within the community of faith. The movement from Jewish to Gentile inclusion also hints at this broadening trajectory implicit in the Gospel.

If your priority is “to get the Bible right” over compassion and acceptance of people for whatever reason, you seem to be acting counter to Jesus’ approach of regularly showing that insistence on religious rules at the expense of compassion as precisely getting it backwards.

So while you can ask for “space” or “agreeing to disagree” — it is not unlike asking for space to be allowed to discriminate based on language, or race, or gender — all of which we realize is counter to the gospel and the heart of Jesus (even if instances of each can be found in the Scripture or prior Christian practice). Should we have Bible studies for “whites only”? Should we oppose mixed-race marriages? Should we ask women to be covered and silent? You get the picture.

For those who have moved to a place of full acceptance of people regardless of their sexual orientation, gender identity, and whether or not they are in a relationship with a person of the same gender—it feels close to impossible to, in good conscience, be in regular fellowship with those who would prefer to continue the practice of exclusion and discrimination toward these brothers and sisters in Christ. In fairness, I’ve evolved in my views and understanding on this and many other issues. So I understand that people are in differing places. Yet to exclude people in the process seems less and less OK to me.

You’ll accept me, but not my friends Joe and Greg? Or Sue and Lisa? Or Malcom, Janice or Luis?

You see how this gets difficult.

The article referenced earlier says:

David Gushee, an ethicist who now supports same-sex marriage and same-sex relationships, recently wrote an article explaining why conservative and progressive evangelicals are headed for a divorce. According to Gushee, the nature of marriage and sexuality is merely the tip of the iceberg because there are “a hundred other fractures” – questions related to biblical authority and political involvement.

I don’t have a good solution as to how to maintain unity over an issue like this, not to mention the “hundred other fractures.” Can we keep positive, give-and-take relationships with those who disagree on this issue? Of course. We must. But can we cohabitate a religious space where we fundamentally disagree on what it is to be human and how/when/where/why God accepts us? That is a more difficult question.


bryan-2Bryan Berghoef is a pastor, speaker, and author of the book: Pub Theology: Beer, Conversation and God. He’s also a big fan of his kids, baseball, and a good scotch. Listen to Bryan’s weekly podcast: Pub Theology Live! on Tuesday nights at 9pm ET.

11 Comments

  1. ncyjoygries says:

    You are right. This is a tough one. I guess we have to remind ourselves that God is Spirit and Spirit does not judge. People judge. As long as we can sit together without judgement toward each other and let the Holy Spirit lead our thoughts, we can all worship together.

  2. ConfusedButOpenToTheDialogue says:

    So we should exclude people from our worshipping community who, at this moment in time, exclude others explicitly because “they” want to exclude others? How does that make us any less exclusionary than the ones we would seek to exclude?

    • Hi friend-
      I should have been more explicit (see addition above in italics)—I was referring to denominational or institutional affiliation, not a worship service. I agree that we should welcome all to our worship gatherings. And I mean all. That does not mean that it makes sense for people on the welcoming side of this equation to affiliate officially with a body of people who hold a position that demeans, denigrates, or renders second class certain people. Is that clearer?

      Grace and peace,
      Bryan

  3. Excellent post. A huge part of why I feel so disconnected from the catholic church. Not only beliefs toward homosexuals but the behavior regarding the priestly predators. My fellow parishioners dismiss all this by saying “but that’s not the church, it’s individuals.” I say BS.

    • But it *was* the church. The way to deal with abusers came from very high up. Often the response was to either blame the victim or move the priest elsewhere (where he likely continued his crimes). So any attempt to ignore the culpability of the RC church as an institution is wrong. On the other hand, I do think Pope Francis is a step in the right direction and a very genuine person.
      I am not Roman Catholic, but I have read a fair bit.

  4. Where do we draw the line on what it’s ok to agree to disagree on, and what it’s not ok to agree to disagree on? After reading your post, this is the question uppermost in my mind. And I don’t know how to answer it. I think that whatever I do, I must act in love and with compassion for those who disagree with me. Being kind is more important than being right.

    • Good question, Sandy.

      Someone elsewhere put it this way: “I think many of these issues have to do with whether or not they are existential. The ability to marry and have a family is a matter of life and death. Gay marriage is not the same level of issue as infant baptism, at least in the laws of this nation today. So no, issues pertaining to human rights are not of the “agree to disagree category.””

  5. ncyjoygries says:

    If you were not a pastor you wouldn’t have to add the italic explanation Bryan. If the established church could think with their hearts first and foremost and their minds second, they could welcome all of God’s children to their denomination. It is that same old sports mentality working here. My team. Your team. those other teams. Agape does not behave that way.

  6. Hi Bryan: A friend gave me “Pub Theology” for my birthday a couple of days ago, and I am loving it! You are a fellow traveler with whom I would love to have a beer; I resonate with so much of what you are writing. I’m a philosophy professor and fellow seeking Christian–you might enjoy my blog “Freelance Christianity: Philosophy, Faith, and the Real World” at http://www.freelancechristianity.com. Thanks!

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