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I was struck by the topic of grey … given I had just independently blogged about it in relation to gay relationships in the church. The propensity of people to take on Gods role of defining black and white destroys productive conversation about complex questions. Yet, given we don’t see with God’s perfect eye, we have to accept some confusion. Nonetheless, God does have a position on gay relationships, so we’re left with a quandry, because we MUST address it. This was the starting point for our church discussion.
This is the first problem: We don’t know how to discuss the issues of hetero-sex and same-sex practices without implicitly putting people on trial.
This is the second problem: Until we know how to articulate our position, we implicitly and unthinkingly endorse a position by our reaction to emerging situations.
Let’s say a gay couple joins my church, lets call them Fred and John, or Susan and Jean. Great. No problem. In fact, wonderful, because it means the barrier of prejudice has been broken. The church is (should be) fully open and welcoming to everyone. OK, so there will be some grumbles from people who like their comfort zone to be left untouched, but hey, they’re the same people who grumble when the homeless come into the services, or the rituals are changed.
Now Fred or Susan want to help with tea or with sound mixing in the services. Good … for as Mark Melluish said, “bless, belong, believe, become.” We’re all in different stages in our walk with God.
Then perhaps Jean, who is musically talented, wants to join the worship team. Or John, a gifted teacher, wants to run a bible study group.
Notice how the levels of authority change; we transition from being a family member serving others, to being a family leader. It’s at this point we have to ask a critical question: “what are our leaders leading us toward?” … for our leaders explicitly (supposedly) stand for Christian God-defined normality. If the church’s theology agrees that same-sex relationships are good in the sight of God, then theoretically we have no problem in our hypothetical example. Jean leads worship, John teaches, the congregation sees gay relationships as part of the Christian norm, and those who don’t like it grumble or leave. If the church’s theology is that gay relationships are wrong, we have a potential outcome that can damage, hurt, and break relationships.
So, we’re back to our first problem. How does a church work through the dialogue without implicitly putting people on trial? This places the local church in a quandary, for it’s the local church that needs to do this, because the situation arises in the local church.
A typical response is to run to the nearest biblical proof text, and if we find the conventional interpretation uncomfortable, we look for alternative hermeneutics; what other ways can we legitimately shape our reading of the text to see if it can hold what we’d like to be true? Can we fit the issue into our desired biblical “Christian normal”?
Unfortunately the almost inevitable result is that we end up drawing a line in the sand, an implicit “putting people on trial” to see of they meet a defined standard. The outcome? Argument. Condemnation and judgment … at least implied if not explicit. Hurt people, broken relationships. Fragmentation and polarization.
But ask yourself: who is perfect in all their finances, charity, spiritual disciplines, gossip, ambition, desires, mercy, love, or grace? No one. None. So a line in the sand is useless, because we’re ALL standing together on one side of that line, and God is on the other side. Who can justifiably cast the first stone?
The issue is not the line in the sand, it goes much deeper than that simplicity. The issue as far as God is concerned is “Where am I facing, what direction am I headed, are my life’s habitual practices and actions convergent or divergent with God’s intended normal?”
Now the problem becomes not a question of “is that sin or not”, but what is “God-normality”? For that is the goal, that is the intention of God as he gazes at all of us standing on the other side of the line. That is the Easter purpose, that is God’s teaching, that is his desire: convergence with his unchanging normal.
All of us are deviant. Whether born with such deviancies or whether we’ve acquired such deviancies through choice. For example, on the biological level I have two spleens (it’s true). On the spiritual level I’m not going to list my deviancies here, but there are many. I am deviant in propensity and practice, yet I hope and pray that I am converging with God’s normal.
But I also know God’s original design. He intended me to be perfect in nakedness, unashamedly unblemished in my physical and spiritual exposure. Able to stand face to face in his presence. Male and female he made us, as companions in perfection.
Now wait a moment: before you jump to conclusions about what you think that implies about my position on gay relationship, let me go a further step. There are some things that are obviously not what God intended (murder, for one), and there are things God definitely did intend (the union of man and woman). But is there a grey zone in between? Take for example the question of polygamy. I don’t see anything in the bible that says God either approves of, or judges polygamy. In fact we see many examples in the Old Testament of polygamous people who nevertheless had God’s favor. Likewise, is it against God to smoke (it damages us, causes cancer, and shortens life)? It doesn’t seem so from the bible. Or is it wrong to lose our inhibitions from drinking alcohol (and I’m not talking about all-out drunken stupor)? Wine was a common drink endorsed by Jesus (he even made it himself, and classy stuff it was by the sounds of it).
These are in that zone of behavior where God seems to say “Not the original design, not the intended normality, not optimal, but your choice”. That’s the grey zone - we all have grey in our lives.
But don’t we want to live in the ideal zone, the white zone, the light zone, the zone of intended creation? Should we not be seeking to be perfect (Matt 5:48), and be holy (1Pe 1:16), as originally intended? Isn’t that God’s desire for us, to come out of the dark and into the light? My whole life has been a journey, even a battle, to get further into the light, and I won’t be fully there till the day I die.
This is perhaps why we have Paul in the New Testament saying to Titus and Timothy that a leader should be of one wife … implicitly he’s saying yes, you could have more than one wife, but that’s grey zone living. If you want to be a leader, then you need to be fighting to get into the white zone and lead by the example of seeking “God’s normal”. Relativism - the current name of the game, choosing our preferred reference - does not define God’s normality (whether I like it or not).
So, when all is said and done, where do I stand on gay relationships and other sexual issues, and where does my church stand?
First I need to make one distinction: there is a big difference between bed-hopping recreational sex built on hormones and hedonism, and that of a loving relational commitment. Personally, I think the former is very much outside the grey zone. With that in mind the biblical position on sexuality and the gay perspective (Genesis 18:20 and 19:5; Leviticus 18:22, 20:13; Romans 1:26–27; 1 Corinthians 6:9–10; 1 Timothy 1:10) seems to be in a context of lifestyle attitudes to casual sex and hedonistic desire. Such behavior - general sexual promiscuity - is outside the grey zone. But what about a loving committed relationship, whether gay or of unmarried heterosexuals living together? It comes in varying degrees of ambiguity. So I place much of this in the as grey zone, and depending on the specifics ranges from darker to lighter shades of grey because of the inevitable broader consequences that sexual relationships have on other people.
As with much of grey zone behavior, when it comes to Christian leadership I struggle to accept the implicit endorsement where a leader’s habitual lifestyle is not “white zone”. Through holding a position of leadership there is a tacit endorsement that what a leader practices as normal is God-normality. Leaders carry a burdensome responsibility and accountability that they “don’t cause my brother/sister to stumble in their walk toward perfect holiness”.
God’s call on our life is to journey toward his created normality. Hence Paul’s position on leadership and polygamy; leaders should be “of one wife”. Christian leaders have the responsibility to lead us into the white zone, the God-normality zone — for that, after all, is our ultimate destination as Christians.
Where does my church stand on this? It’s ambiguous, for we have yet to really have that discussion, perhaps for fear of communicating judgment and implying people are on trial. How will we deal with this? I’m not sure, but I hope it begins with a focus on Holiness and Humility. Let God’s light illuminate, not my prejudiced personal candle, not my comfort zone preference.