We are a people prone to polarization.
Ideologies -- opinions mixed with certainty divorced from relationship and reality -- help us to create all kinds of "others" and "thems" to justify ourselves and our group and the unhealthy antagonism and aggression we wish to perpetuate.
Perhaps no "issue" is more of a lightning rod for polarization -- and violent, often dehumnanizing rhetoric -- than that of LGBT people in the church. But what if we zoomed out for a moment and detached from the theological, ethical, and political debates in order to see a more relational, and perhaps ecclesial, picture? As I've said before, LGBT Christians exist. This is something that more conservative types need to acknowledge, accept and include.
A first step in doing that, and helping to heal the antagonistic separation between non-affirming and affirming Christians and congregations, is for all to open their eyes to the ways that LGBT Christians are already blessing -- and possibly even renewing -- the Church as a whole. Here are three ways I see this happening:
1. LGBT Christians are reminding the Church that the book of Acts is still underway.
The tendency of religion is to institutionally calcify over time, to such a degree that the surprising and miraculous way a movement started is utterly foreign to its current state. This is the worst fate that could come to Christianity which, in its genesis and at its core, flipped all kinds of religious categories upside down through the surprising work of the Spirit. This work certainly had to be discerned by the episcopacy -- God is a God of order, not chaos -- and we see this in Acts 15 with the Jerusalem council, for instance. But it seemed good to the Holy Spirit through the consensus of the church to open the doors wide to those formerly outside -- to the others, to the thems -- while not offending those with differing religious scruples. As many leaders, churches and movements discern this same kind of open door to LGBT Christians, we're reminded that our "Act" in God's drama is still unfolding, in all kinds of surprising ways!
2. LGBT Christians and their advocacy for civil gay marriage are reemphasizing covenantal monogamy.
Yes, you read me right. Much to the dismay of those who vehemently and vigorously claim that LGBT people are destroying traditional marriage, LGBT Christians are actually drawing much attention back to the core Christian virtue of covenantal (married) lifelong monogamy. By facing strong opposition even within the church and continuing to fight for this right, LGBT Christians are essentially showing a commitment to marriage that has been doubtful among straight Christians in North America for some time now! This is not to glamorize gay people as if they will have the best marriages ever and are free from all the same issues straight couples face. But it is to say that in a culture where marriage is a disposable kind of institution for many, including Christians, LGBT Christians are reminding us of its centrality and importance to our faith.
3. LGBT Christians are displaying for the Church the deep kind of Christian joy that comes through suffering.
While this is perhaps less tangible than 1 and 2, I believe one of the great gifts that LGBT Christians are bringing to the church right now is the reality that weeping may last for a night, but joy comes in the morning. We have witnessed the utter failure of Christian reparative therapy and ex-gay ministries in our time. While there are many gay Christians who have decided to live celibate or even traditionally-married lives, only those who do this with eyes wide open to the reality of their orientation, it seems, can live healthy, non-repressed lives. And yet, for so long, the church has been telling LGBT people that sexual orientation and other gender identities are sin issues that must simply "stop" -- or else. With social excommunication or even eternal damnation supposedly at stake, many have suffered. Yet, many have also remained faithful amidst that suffering. And as more open LGBT people find acceptance and inclusion in communities of all kinds (because there is a third way) the church is witnessing the tenacious, effusive joy that only the Lord can give to his people who have suffered.
And that kind of deep, abiding joy that comes through suffering is something that could wake the sleepy and compromised North American church UP and usher in all kinds of renewal.
Again, the point of this post is not to debate the "issue". The point is to call all of us, no matter our opinion, to acknowledge the blessing that LGBT Christians offer to the Church at large.
This post first appeared on The Nuance at Patheos.
Follow Zach J. Hoag on Twitter: www.twitter.com/zhoag