08/15/2012 12:23 pm ET Updated Oct 15, 2012

Gay Marriage and the Church: What Not to Say

Because I am "at variance" with my denomination's official statement on gay marriage, I have had the opportunity to discuss questions of sexuality and the church with lots of people. Lots of people who agree with me. And lots of people who don't.

I am concerned about the church's condemnation of sexual minorities. I am also concerned about our condemnations of each other as we have heated discussions within our congregations and denominations. In "Christ Plays in Ten Thousand Places," Eugene Peterson writes that "We cannot be too careful about the words we use; we start out using them and they end up using us." It is true.

In an effort to help myself -- and others -- "speak the truth in love" (Ephesians 4:15) as we discuss sexuality and the church, I have identified several popular phrases that are not helpful in the conversation. You can read about unhelpful phrases No. 1, No. 2, No. 3, and No. 4 in previous blog posts. Today I present:

Unhelpful Phrase No. 5: "S/he is on the other side of the issue."

Yes, I have used this phrase. It can be a convenient shorthand as we seek to establish allies and foes in the church struggles.

But this is not a fair or honest phrase because the term "other side" suggests that there are only two possible beliefs people can have about sexual minorities in the church. You get to vote "yes" or "no." Then the "yes" people get to make all kinds of assumptions about the "no" people (i.e., they hate gays). And the "no" people get to make all kinds of assumptions about the "yes" people (i.e., they have no concern for sexual morality).

If you have actually listened to more than two people's views on homosexuality and the church, though, I assume you already know that there are more than two sides.

There are people -- few and far between, I trust -- that do believe God hates gay people, and so should we.

And there are people -- equally few, I think -- who think that our sexual relationships do not matter to our spiritual health, so anything goes.

The vast majority of us are somewhere between these two positions.

Some people think "practicing homosexuals" can come to church but not join. Others think they can join but not hold office or be be ordained. Others think, "Practicing homosexual? What the heck! Those two have been together for 30 years. Surely they're beyond the practicing stage by now."

Some folks think homosexuality is a sin worse than most. Others consider it a sin on the same level as so many others on those vice lists like greed, envy, and disobeying your parents. Others think that sexual sins are not about the gender of the partners, but about the love, respect and commitment between them.

There are people who believe the Bible condemns homosexuality. Others who believe the Bible doesn't speak to committed same-sex relationships at all. And frankly, other people -- on all sides -- who don't care much what the Bible says one way or the other.

Some people think sexuality is a choice; others think it is a result of upbringing; others think it is genetic; and others think it doesn't matter.

Some people view homosexuality as a disease to be cured. Others think that it's OK to be attracted to people of the same sex as long as you don't actually have sex with anyone of the same sex. Others think God blesses same sex committed relationships just as God blesses heterosexual committed relationships.

Obviously, I haven't mentioned every possible belief. I don't know how many sides there are here, but I know there are more than two -- more than "my side" and the "other side."

The second problem with phrase No. 5 is the word "issue." It's a difficult term to avoid. But the faithful mother of a lesbian daughter has shared with me how hurtful this term can be. "My daughter is not an issue, she is a person."

So whether or not you agree with my belief that the church should be fully inclusive and affirming of sexual minorities, I hope you will agree with my belief that we should all listen more and categorize less. That we should all seek to speak the truth in love as we talk about -- and as we talk with -- people in the church who are lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered.