The Rev. Dr. Katherine G. Killebrew
Pastor, Collingwood Presbyterian Church, Collingswood, NJ
From the beginning of the Bible, we see that God loves the in-breaking of light, sound, new ideas, salvation, birth, growth and death that shakes up our world. It is all part of God’s plan. God has created us with this dilemma of loving dependability and order and yet craving the possibility of change. Just ask anyone who needs to change their bad behavior or hears the call of God to “go therefore into the world” and you will hear the innate call of change. “Behold, I am creating something new among you. Can you perceive it?” says the prophet Isaiah. I think God loves surprises and miracles. And yes, even God changes. (cf. Ex. 32:14, Jer. 18:10, Jer 26:13)
Change doesn’t happen overnight. Most people require a catalyst or crisis to force change. Any change requires some loss. God created a creation that loves order, and yet requires change to survive. It was God’s intention to create us as creatures of habit, so we will maintain order. But it is also God’s intention to create us in need of the disorder that keeps us lively, creative and discomforted enough to change. When we fail to manage change, reconciliation and redemption are built into the core of Christian faith.
So how do people change? For some it is the exposure over time, which can feel like a loss of intentionality. Much of this kind of change is unconscious. This is not always bad, but we as people of faith, like to be intentional and guided by Scripture and the Word of God, not the word of the world. In other instances, we intentionally and rationally decide to make a change, then coax our bodies and souls to adhere to the intended changes.
As people consciously invite the new into their lives – perhaps a new baby, new friend, new job or new community – they start a long process of synthesizing what their mind, their soul and their physical experience are telling them. I think it is a dance. They experience (not in this order necessarily) dissonance, new experiences; they think, pray, talk about it, try it out, put it away, bring it out, try it on, try for a time, fail to believe, lash out in anger, talk about it more, tell their fears, figure out what they might lose and give that up, and then claim it as their own. Then of course we start all over again, because we are human and humans live in a world of change. It’s a requirement of life and faith. Jesus said “For truly I tell you, unless you change and become like children you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever becomes humble like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me.” (Matthew 18: 3-5)
Now let’s take a look at the movement in thought on the specific issue of homosexuality. As Dr. Stacy Johnson writes in his study paper for the Theological Task Force on the Peace, Unity and Purity of the Church,
For decades now the church has blamed its debate regarding gay and lesbian people as a clash between two antithetical view points. One side passionately calls for affirmation of gay identity and life; the other argues with equal vigor that the church must maintain its present non-affirming stance. By framing things this way, the church has forced its membership, year after year, to join sides in a series of winner –takes- all battles. *
Johnson goes on to cast a typology of different stances as:
• Prohibition: does not approve and would bar activity
• Toleration: does not approve the activity but would not prosecute it when it occurs
• Accomodation: does not approve the activity ordinarily, but would allow for exceptions on “lesser than evil” rationale.
• Legitimation: wants to prevent the activity from being singled out unfairly
• Celebration: the activity should no longer be scorned, but affirmed as good
• Liberation: sees societal attitudes about the activity as caught up in wider prejudices that need to be remedied
• Consecration: argues for the blessing of the activity in a religious context
I appreciate the work of Dr. Johnson and recommend studying this typography further. However, I found that in my work with my congregation and with other church members, we needed a more personal description of where people stood on this issue.** Observe this continuum and see how people change and move in these ethical stances:
Ethical Continuum for Congregational Members
(or “You gotta move when the Spirit says move”)
1. I believe homosexuality is a sin, against the commandments of the Bible. Homosexuality is worthy of punishment and expulsion from the Christian Community. Their behavior is abhorrent and disgusting, I would even advocate putting gays and lesbians to death.
2. I believe homosexuality is a sin and not in the plan of God for love relationships. We were created to be heterosexual. Physically, humans are not created for homosexual acts, since sex is primarily designed for procreation. I cannot accept it. It is destroying the moral fabric of our society and the human family. I don’t want to see it, talk about it, or read about it.
3. I believe homosexuality is a sin but I believe we should love the sinner and hate the sin. I pray they will be changed and believe it is a choice for a lifestyle.
4. I don’t know why some people are homosexual. Some scientific research claims a genetic makeup that is present since birth. Maybe there is something wrong with their genetic makeup, but they aren’t making a conscious choice. Still I don’t want to see it.
5. I know gay co-workers and relatives. I wouldn’t call them my best friends. We are too different, but who am I to judge? I am not God and believe that all should live in peace. Live and let live.
6. I have gay friends and gay relatives. I believe they are who they are from birth. I believe that homosexuals can be moral, committed and holy people. Not all gay people are promiscuous, not all heterosexual people are faithful. I am willing to talk about it, read about it and be with gay people comfortably. I believe that LOVE is the ethic for all people.
7. I believe that God has created some people to be gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender. God loves them and they are just as holy, faithful and moral as anyone else. There have been homosexuals from the beginning of time in every species. This is God’s will for diversity.
8. I am willing to advocate for GLBTQ people politically and publicly. I would risk my job or position to insure their rights. I have advocated politically for change in social, political and ecclesiastical life.
My personal experience and my conversations with many church members lead me to believe that many of us have already changed from one ethical stance to the other on this issue. Generally most people are in the middle of this continuum, which creates an extreme difficulty when forced to vote in a political forum on this issue. Notice how most of the stances “do not want to talk about it.” Who wanted to know that their parents had sexual relations when they were young? What child isn’t embarrassed in health class? Prudent people, whether gay or straight, usually find such conversations to be inappropriate in public settings. Frankly, most of us wouldn’t talk about heterosexual sex in public either.
Furthermore, our over-sexualized society has forced increasing promiscuity upon our lives and our children’s lives to the point where most Christians, understandably have had enough. So the backlash comes upon the just and the unjust alike. Unfortunately, committed, faithful homosexuals have been lumped into the bath water of all sexual promiscuity and thrown out with the baby.
What Christians need to do is to stand for holy and just behavior. We believe that God wants people to make commitments, act out of faithfulness and flourish sexually in a loving relationship. God knows we want to draw boxes around who is right and wrong, we were created that way. However we were also created to change when we need to and work out our salvation with fear and trembling. Thanks be to God for this amazing gift of the ability to change and become new!
“ If God gave them the same Spirit in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could hinder God? ” (The apostle Peter upon changing his mind whether the Gentiles should be allowed in the Christian Church. Acts 11:17)
[*] Johnson, William Stacy, “Same Gender Relationships in the Church: Seven Theological Viewpoints” Paper prepared for the Peace, Unity and Purity Task Force, PCUSA.
[**] Special thanks to Charles Miller, Rev. Tom Murphy and Deacon Myra Ostrander for their help on this continuum.