I’ve moved four times in the last two years, and in each location I’ve found pockets of Christians at all the coffee shops I frequented. When I was new to Colorado and overheard snippets of a Bible study or Jesus-y conversation, my heart would swell with familiarity, and I’d feel a sense of home.
After leaving seminary, though, I’d eavesdrop on similar conversations and wonder, how will these people react if I were to jump in and be honest about the questions I have? There’s always that 50-50 chance when you insert yourself into strangers’ dialogue that you’ll emerge with new friends, or end up making things really awkward for everyone.
This week I decided I’d just listen. The conversation was about Christian compassion in response to LGBT discrimination (probably in the wake of Leelah Alcorn’s suicide). My attention faded in and out as I tried to focus on my book, but honestly, when two people are discussing something interesting and they are sitting three feet away from you, listening in can’t be wrong. So I turned my iPod off, but kept the headphones in, and pretended to be engrossed in my reading.
“It makes me sad when people are so quick to judge others,” the guy was saying (I’m horrible at guessing people’s ages, but he was around 20-something?).
“Absolutely,” replied the girl, bobbing her blonde head in agreement (also a theoretical 20-something). “I mean, Christians should be loving people back into healthy sexuality instead of acting cruel.”
At this point I had to bite my lip to keep from responding, but I don’t know what I would have said: Can you be a little more specific about what “loving people back into healthy sexuality” means? Can you explain why homosexuality is so bad, besides the fact that it’s “against God’s design”? Because plenty of straight, married couples aren’t having children and they’re still welcome in church, but that’s technically “against God’s design” too, right?
It’s better that I didn’t say anything. The words would have come out sloppy, tangled, and rushed. The last thing I wanted to do was appear antagonistic, because I’ve participated in countless similar discussions over the last several years. Only I wasn’t always concerned with appearing compassionate and Christ-like. I’ve carried an air of intolerance disguised as sympathy for homosexuals, which was easy to do as a straight woman, completely unable to understand their plight. It also helped that I didn’t know any homosexuals personally. After a while, my intolerance shifted toward indifference: I’d take no stance at all on the issue, as it did not apply to me. But during my final year of college, I did become acquainted with people who were gay, and I couldn’t remain indifferent any longer.
I chose the side of compassion and understanding. I decided I’d ask to hear people’s coming out stories and give them the attention they deserve. But as far as “loving people back to healthy sexuality,” that seemed beyond my qualifications, nor did it seem like any of my business.
So in a way, I’m still stuck in a state of indifference: I could accept the Bible’s proposed stance on homosexuality, but I have to be honest and admit that I hope those interpretations will be revealed in fifty years as misunderstood, just as Christians misunderstood verses pertaining to slavery. So I’m not investigating the sources out of fear of what I might find. I’m afraid of reading into things with a bias. I’m choosing to stay away, for now.
My close circle of Christian friends have assured me that this doesn’t have to be a deal-breaker, as far as salvation is concerned. The Bible does say, after all, that one must believe in Jesus to be saved: not vote against gay marriage, register Republican, protest abortion in all circumstances, and so on. Still, it concerns me that one doubt tends to have a ripple affect on all other things I thought I was certain about. Yank one weed, reveal three more.
What should I have done if I were a participant in that conversation? Put on a faithful face and hope to “fake it till I make it”? Pretend to understand and agree even if I don’t?
I’ve heard plenty of sermons about “choosing to believe,” but is that really what we mean? I’d love to choose the belief that the majority of Christians have an accurate handle on what these “clobber verses” mean: that gays are an abomination, that homosexuality can be prayed away. The problem is, Christianity (and all religions in general) has not been as static as we’d like to think. History has shown us where we’ve erred in our interpretations. I can’t help but wonder about the future of this faith: if fifty years from now, we will still be teaching the same things.
It seems to me that the one static thing about Christianity since its inception is the teaching of Jesus as the one source of salvation, but viewpoints change as technology and science mature to reveal new things about the human body and mind. Every generation develops tools for knowledge that were not available to their predecessors. It has been commonly taught that suicide is a sin, for example, but knowledge of depression as a serious mental illness has changed some of that thinking. If science can one day prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that people are born homosexual or transgendered, will our teachings update, or remain the same?