You Need Only Listen
By James Farlow
Like most Christians, we are never far from the culture wars. We try to carve out a space for ourselves where a more peaceful, loving dialogue can prevail in the midst of vitriol and miscommunication. But just when we think we’ve allowed ourselves to sit down at our favorite restaurant to get a wrap, we find ourselves in the midst of an evangelical apocalypse. Sometimes, like everyone else, we just want to avoid the issues.
A short time ago the Peace and Justice Advocates at Fuller hosted Justin Lee, executive director of the Gay Christian Network. In one of the discussions during his visit, he said “My life is not an issue. I am a person, and I don’t want to be alone.” For Justin and those in the LGBT Christian community who have spent their entire adult lives on a frustrating pilgrimage of rejection in the church, the determination of words on a page is more than “an issue.” Communal judgment in the church and our culture shapes the experience of their emotional and spiritual lives.
So far at Fuller we have been spared much of the heated rhetoric that surrounds the future of the LGBT community, but we can’t look away anymore; a great earthquake has split our culture in two and the consequences are tearing apart our churches. There are students on this campus who face tremendously difficult futures as leaders in the church and what are we doing to help them? In many ways, we have access to better information and data to answer some of our deepest questions, but instead of faithfully asking the difficult questions and struggling for community in a Spirit of truth and love, we are officially ignoring them as a community. We ask “ “What is the precise meaning of the Biblical authors?” Like our forebears in the Protestant community, our first reaction is to create a Biblical mandate. This is the wrong question. Behind it lies a false answer that beckons our shallow response. We think that if we can somehow answer this question, then we will know the right way to approach the issue of sexuality. As if in every other age of history, Christians simply examined the scriptures, came to a precise understanding of the proposition of a passage, and considered the matter settled. As if that’s really the way it happened. As if that’s how the scriptures are written. As if that’s how God actually speaks to us today.
The word of God came to us in the flesh. If letters were all that we needed to save ourselves, Moses would not have cast stone tablets onto the desert floor. Let us consider the most fundamental story of our faith: Jesus spoke to his disciples about scripture and about himself for three years. Were they able to understand that the prophecies of the Messiah referred to a suffering, crucified, and resurrected God? Were they able to understand the heart of Jesus as he was broken by oppression? It is only after experiencing and witnessing his resurrection that they began to understand the Word of God. They spent the rest of their lives beginning to understand and tell others about the nature of the good news of Jesus Christ. It is in the witness and experience of Jesus Christ that the scriptures and the parables made sense. Under the tutelage of the Holy Spirit, the disciples walked faithfully in the work of God. The disciples did not ignore scripture, and neither do we. But if we pretend to have answers, to have knowledge absent the witness of communities and people who we judge, we make a mockery of the witness of Christ.
The absurdity of our debates is only highlighted by our history. When Peter proclaimed access for the Gentiles without circumcision or any sort of ritual purity, does he get there through sound exegesis, through a meticulous diacritical examination of texts? I assure you, he did not get there from a historio-critical analysis of Leviticus. Acts tells us what happened, and it involved the baptism of the Holy Spirit. He could not deny the work that God was doing.
Returning to Justin’s statement, people’s lives are not scenarios to be deciphered so that we might extract the proper moral coding. Human beings are factories of love and desire, and they are desperate not to be alone. Human beings are sexual. We long to be connected in deeply personal ways with others. We don’t just want to interact, to have great conversation; we deeply desire to touch and be touched. We want to have another person around the house who will share our joys, our sadness, our graces, and our foibles. It is only natural that this companionship extends to where we are naked and unashamed. It is not only natural, it is good. Celibacy is a great gift, but one not often chosen. It requires special allowance from the community so that those who remain celibate may not be cut off from companionship. Are we fooling ourselves into believing that we are offering companionship to those in the LGBT community?
Members of the LGBT community are going to seek companionship, Christian and non-Christian. We seem to be learning over and over again that calling those relationships into covenant is not damaging, but rather a blessing. Maybe in our rush to condemn those who are different, we ought to rejoice that the LGBT community is celebrating the idea of marriage and covenantal sexual faithfulness.
I am here today to argue for you enter into dialogue. To interact with your brothers and sisters in the LGBT community. They are not your enemy. I have seen the Holy Spirit doing mighty work in their midst. You do not have to agree with them. You need only listen.