Post #20 Understanding Homosexuality (author and pastor David Glesne) meets Straight Into Gay America (author and pastor Lars Clausen).
In this post Lars considers again how we look differently at the world. Lots of words, but as Dave and I agree, these are core issues for how we live.
I have been absorbing and thinking about your writing for these last few days. It feels good, like being back in the parish and wondering how we all figure out how to live together. I agree that we’re at the crux of some important life questions. And I fear I’ll fall short in communicating as well as I want to.
A Story with a River:
Most on my mind these past days has been an ancient Eastern story of a man who wandered through a forest for years and years, until finally he came to a river. He camped there for years and years until finally he crossed that river. And then everything looked different. Everything made sense differently. And there was no going back.
Just last week retired Pastor Paul Frerking added a personal story to this blog that has similarities to the Eastern story.
The beginning of my "journey" to live in the freedom of the Gospel began in a course I was taking in Seminary, The Pentateuch. We were required to translate a number of verses, one of which was based on the question of who wrote the Pentateuch. I was rabidly in the "Moses wrote it"and would "stand guard" daring anyone to challenge Mosaic authorship (a reflection of my Lutheran Church, Missouri Synod background and parents' teaching). I came to Genesis 36:31 and my world fell apart! "These are the kings who reigned in the land of Edom, before any king reigned over the Israelites."Just plain logic (your "experience?") told me this verse was written AFTER kings ruled in Israel; this eliminated Moses! My Hebrew prof, Holland Jones, asked me when I scheduled an appointment with him, "Does your faith rest on Moses writing the Pentateuch, or on Jesus Christ?" This was the beginning of my "awakening." I was very much afraid because my anchor had fallen; I saw the beginning of all the warnings I had been "primed" to believe, start crashing to the ground; the tiny "hole in the dike" had burst and the water was drowning me. Life would never be the same for me; but I also found the freedom to breathe and think. It was almost a "life after life" experience.
Which Side of the River?
At this point the conversation often turns to which position is better. Is it the one who upholds the sanctity of rules and a fixed revelation? Or is it the one who has gone across the river and no longer rests in absolute rules, but lives from an irrational faith in the absolute centrality of compassion, making all things subject to its critique?
From your side of the river you write “love and compassion have no internal moral compasses of their own, and because we self-centered sinners repeatedly find ourselves distorting genuine love in the name of ‘love,’ love always needs law to guide it.
From my side of the river, love and compassion is the only compass we have. But it’s more than personal. Love and compassion are relative to as much of the human, natural, global, cosmic experience as we can gather for helping us to discern life. In fact, love and compassion are religious, claiming the spirit of the faith, rather than the rules. From my side of the river, your objective view of the world appears as subjective as my own.
On the Size of our Tents:
Paul Frerking says he found the freedom to breathe and think by going beyond the absoluteness of Scriptural revelation and rules. You write that Revelation makes your tent huge, “encompassing all of reality,” and you fear I’m stuck in a leaky pup tent.
Yes, I agree my tent is a low one. It doesn’t claim to know the origin of creation, or absolute revelation, or fixed law, it only seeks after the fullness of life in the context of love. And yes, it can be a very scary place to be, without certainty…except the only thing more scary is to hang on to a fixed perspective once I crossed the river, once I saw that my prior absolutes could only be seen as subjective.
I don’t think there’s much point in arguing who has the better view property from where we each stand. I think I’ve lived on your property in earlier times in my life and seen the view from your perspective, (I was once a Navigator evangelical in college, and every question that couldn’t be answered by us, the Bible instructor told us simply, “God wrote it, its true.”) I don’t hear that you’ve lived on my property yet, or maybe you have and decided it wasn’t the best side of the river for you.
I’ll simply offer some feedback from outside the big tent. And I’ll just take my time with this writing. If readers are tired, that’s fine. We’re talking about the stuff that informs how I’ve come to pattern my life. This is for me, if for no one else.
You say it’s a big enough tent. For you. And I’m glad. But it’s a tent that’s causing damage to many LGBT people. And you’ll reply, “but them’s the rules,” and I’ll reply with my side of the equation. We’ve done that before.
If there were no damage caused, I’d ask for nothing from your tent. But there is damage caused that need not be, which is why I rode my unicycle, and why I read your book, and why I asked if we could talk together. And you agreed, and it’s a gift. I thank you.
I ask of you this reflection from inside of your big tent.
- A relooking at the scientific data you continue to quote. If you’re really enjoying a huge view of reality, would it not be possible to expand your sources beyond NARTH and the others that are overwhelmingly rejected by the scientific associations and researchers of the day. If your tent has such great scope, it seems that continued credibility demands scientific integrity. Our blog commenters have given us plenty of leads to follow up.
A relooking at the language you use to describe homosexuals. I can’t understand a huge tent perspective needing to insist that homosexuality is a pseudo-identity, or that it’s necessarily harmful, or that it’s sufficiently described by listing behaviors. If the tent is really huge, it needs to take seriously the experience of the many who understand their sexual reality as an identity, not just a behavior.
- A relooking at the Bible that you’re using to judge homosexuality. You’ve said repeatedly the Bible is unambiguous in its stance on homosexuality. This is difficult to accept from a fellow Lutheran pastor. In the huge tent, there’s more than ambiguity, there is much that can honor homosexual relationships. If you agree that there’s context and history involved in the writing of the Bible, then one must bring in issues (to name but a few) of temple prostitution (Paul’s references), customs about hospitality (Sodom) and understandings of sexual reproduction from that time (Leviticus). In addition, in the six or seven verses used to condemn homosexuality, one must consider that none of them address the current culture of long-term same-sex relationships. If one looks for positive examples in the Bible, one can read the story of King David and his lover Jonathan, and their love that surpasses the love with women. If one looks for positive examples in todays culture, one can find thousands of faithful Christian pastors living in same-sex relationships of love, care, and fidelity.
- A relooking at how culture changes the interpretation of the Bible over time. You’ve written the issue of women and slavery is different than the acceptance of homosexuality. Women were once absolutely considered as property. It’s even part of the Ten Commandments, where women are included with other property such as houses and donkeys in a list of things not to be coveted by men. In our society, women today are no longer considered property. Compassion, understanding, and a good deal of activism changed the rules. Homosexuality deserves the same consideration.
I don’t know what your big tent will look like upon considering these issues, but let me bring this back to daughters, and what you’d tell your daughter – as you said
If a child of mine (and I have four) told me he or she was gay, the first and foremost thing I would do is love them as always. I would assure them of my love and that nothing they could do would ever sever my love for them. Within my love for them I would gently show them what Scripture says about homosexual behavior.
If it were my son I would also share with him information about gay men having a higher rate of STD’s than married/straight men and some of the other health consequences of same-sex behavior. If it were my daughter I would share information regarding a higher rate of mental illness in lesbian women than in straight women. Why would I share this information with them? Because I love them and want what is best for them. I would also share with them, then, information from science and also philosophical reason. So when I come to such a point of existential crises, my objective world view allows me to hold to both relationship (love for my child) and law (sharing God’s law regarding homosexual behavior) simultaneously. I do not need to choose one over the other. Indeed, I must not do so for autonomous love simply has no basis in Scripture, in the God of Scripture, or in His Son Jesus Christ. I hold to the relationship and to God’s law at the same time. In loving my child I share God’s law and gospel with him/her so that they might have life!
This Rebecca who keeps writing you, and trying to get through to you, she is a friend of mine. I “officiated” her wedding., although it was unofficial in every regard except love. The state of Georgia did not recognize the wedding. My bishop said I couldn’t use the Lutheran wedding vows or call the service a marriage. Becky and Michelle had written their own beautiful vows so the wedding vows prohibition was no problem. After they did their pre-marriage counseling and scored compatibility evaluations higher than any other couple I’d ever counseled I wrote the bishop and explained that I would be using the word marriage.
Not one person from Becky’s family came to the wedding. Not one person.
Michelle’s family was there to a person, including Michelle’s grandmother. Michelle had come out early, at the age of 14, and all during the remaining time she lived in her home, she was never allowed to be alone with her brother. Michelle’s mother had heard that homosexual people were child predators. She didn’t even trust her own daughter to be in the presence of her son. I learned this story at the wedding, when Michelle could confide to me how fearful I’d made her at one of our first meetings.
I was getting ready for Sunday Morning worship, holding my two-year-old son in my arms. Michelle was standing nearby so I simply handed Kai off to her while I made preparations. I didn’t give her much choice since everybody loved holding our babies. It was at the wedding she told me how afraid she’d been, that when I discovered she was lesbian, I’d remember back to her holding Kai, and I’d be angry with her for holding my child. Scars.
Two weeks after the wedding, I received a card from Michelle’s mother, and a long letter, the sum of it being that the wedding, with a pastor, and an official service, allowed her to finally see her daughter as fully whole, just as she was, a woman who was giving her life to another woman. That was a beautiful moment, receiving that card, knowing I had played a small part in the healing of deep scars.
Four years later Becky and Michelle divorced, although that too is unofficial since there’s no legal arrangement either for dissolving relationships. Great, wonderful people, continuing good friends of our family, living the blessings and challenges of life like most of our other friends.
Except that Becky’s parents have not communicated with her for over five years. Not once. Her brother recently wrote to try and reclaim a relationship – his purpose was to coax Becky into an ex-gay program. Perhaps they still love her with the unconditional love you would give to your daughter. But perhaps they feel like you do, that Becky’s self-affirming homosexual identity, behavior, and relationship put her in jeopardy of losing the kingdom. And perhaps the strongest thing they know how to do is to have nothing to do with that sin. Perhaps it is great love in a tent stifled by unambiguous rules.
Becky, when she writes to you, appears vicariously to be trying to reach her own parents, the judging parents she sees in what you are writing.
I’m not sure I sense you being all the way out on the existential plank in your description of what you’d do with an announcement by your son or daughter that they are gay. Becky’s been there, where the rules no longer hold up. Hundreds and thousands of others have, too. You’ve written that you’d warn a self-affirming active homosexual they might be in danger of losing the kingdom. What if that was your child, a person with as strong a commitment to their partner as you have to your wife, and insisting on recognition of the partner in the household, just like your other children’s married spouses? What if your child was a person getting married in a Massachusetts Lutheran Church, and a gay activist? What if she insisted that her life, this life, was an act of faith? I’m wondering if your declarations of unconditional love would be enough for your daughter or son, or if the unflagging judgment of their behavior and denial of her identity would drive them away, as happened with Becky, outside the large tent of absolute revelation and absolute rules?
Thank you for the blessing of this conversation. These do indeed seem like core conversations, and I am grateful we can have them. I look forward to continuing our dialogue.
P.S. You asked me three specific questions:
1. What is it within compassion that gives it direction?
I think I've answered this above.
2. What is it within love itself that tells me the loving thing to do with regard to my neighbor?
I think I've addressed this above, but as you have faith in rules, I have faith in love and compassion, and using the accumulated wisdom of the faith traditions about love, and whatever experience can be gathered from history about living well together, and whatever experience can be gathered from a current situation to try and develop a compassionate response. This may not be simple and unambiguous. Answers in one setting may or may not apply in other settings. Compassion is the vision by which love seeks to act concretely.
3. What do I mean by sin?
In my first year of teaching confirmation as a seminary student, the Lutheran test we were using described sin this way.
"Sin is not about broken rules. Sin is about broken
That's been enough for me ever since. If rules enhance relationship, they are good rules. If rules damage relationships (slavery, etc) then the rules need to be reevaluated and changed.