Sunday, January 22, 2006

Conversation Thread - part 1 - "No Longer Angry" by Walt Marston

To our readers: Please note that the following article is meant to be used for discussion, for thoughtful engagement of the issue. It is not intended to define the value of emergent west michigan. It is not intended as a defining point by either Walt or me.

No Longer Angry

By Walt Marston

My initial reaction to recent church pronouncements about homosexuality was one of anger. Then it turned to puzzlement, wondering about how people see the issue so differently. Now I am past being angry. I think I can see why some churches and individuals believe as they do about homosexuality. It seems that our understanding of homosexuality is based to a large extent on our understanding of “natural order.”

~Limited View of Natural Order

Many people believe that the natural order is a patriarchal type of order. Everything flows downward from God the Father to the princes and priests of our world (all men) to fathers as heads of families. Women are generally subordinate in this order. Some men are superior or more powerful than others in this model, and the relative worth of a person is based on his success in controlling (or protecting) those below him in the order. Gays are tolerated only to the extent that they are out of sight or at least not interfering with the “natural order.”

Of course, in this life, some things do need an authoritative order. We all like to think that things are “under control,” that some authority provides stability, protecting us and making us feel safe. But only to the extent of providing a reasonable level of safety and security, not a rigid and oppressive control of our lives.

All of this begs the larger questions. Where does true authority, real safety and security, reside? What is the real natural order? When does a hierarchical order apply and when does it just misrepresent the real underlying spiritual order?

~Misunderstanding of Homosexuality

Likewise, it appears that the church and society have usually held the view that homosexuality is wrong or abnormal because it doesn’t fit a model of sex only for procreation and perpetuation of the patriarchal order. Scriptural interpretation has often been used to support this view.

However, in Bible times there was no clear concept of homosexuality. They didn’t see some people as “straight” and others as “gay.” They thought everybody was straight but that some of these straight people performed perverse or unnatural acts.

Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians refers to the sexually immoral, idolaters, adulterers, male prostitutes and homosexual offenders. However, this “homosexual offender” was not a person in a loving same-sex relationship, but rather, a person whose excessive lust was gratified with the use (abuse) of boys or male prostitutes.

Similarly, the so-called “homosexual offenders” implied in other Bible passages, such as the Sodom story in Genesis, were actually heterosexuals engaging in immoral behavior – humiliating foreigners or degrading other people. These were acts of exploitative dominance or lust, not love. The people in these bible passages were sinning all right, but their sin was not homosexuality. It was idolatry, excessive self-gratification and abuse of other people.

Unfortunately our society and media promote stereotypes of gays as being selfish, self-indulgent and promiscuous, totally pre-occupied with sex within a so-called “gay culture.” The reality is far removed from this perception. Most gay people live ordinary lives, indistinguishable from the rest of us. The sexual aspect of their lives is no greater than it is for heterosexuals. The totality of who they are is not centered on their sexual orientation. There is no single “gay culture” just as there is no single “straight culture;” however, the stereotype that is continuously reinforced suggests that there is.

The real issue is not sexual orientation at all. It is the misuse of sex by anyone to dominate, manipulate or hurt other people, or the exploitation of sex in the media and the popular culture.

~The Natural Order of God

Jesus gives us a fuller understanding of our true relationship to God and each other – a way that does not depend on power relationships. He shows us that the old top-down model no longer applies. Rather, the way of the Spirit is where our real security is found. The Spirit shows no partiality, no preference for power (actually empowers all persons, not just a privileged few).

The right order is that we are all equal before God and in direct relationship to God – this is the “natural order.” Because we are all equal in God, we are also equal to each other. Everyone is of equal worth. Only when we recognize this will we treat others with the love and respect they deserve, not some as more valuable or worthy than others.

Another important truth is the infinite variety of God’s creation. We are equal in value, but unique in expression. We are all different, yet we all have the same Source, indeed are inseparable from that Source. Not only are we all shades of color, but unique in a multitude of respects. Some are left-handed (and in past centuries persecuted even for this). Sexual orientation is one of the ways in which persons are infinitely different and unique. We must celebrate this uniqueness, not quash it to fit a false notion of a “natural order.” God made us different for a reason. Instead of seeing differences as threats, we should see them as creations of God that enhance our experience of life.

The wisest among us realize that diversity leads us to a fuller and clearer understanding of Truth. The reason is that individually, and even in our limited communities, we can only comprehend part of the Truth. In community and dialogue with those who see things differently, we are able to see more of the pieces that together make up the whole Truth. It is a grave mistake to think we’ve found all the pieces and then discontinue the search or wall ourselves off from others who would further clarify the full and ongoing revelation of God and Truth. The tendency is often to clutch tightly the pieces we’ve already found, out of a fear of losing them. The reality is that we never lose what we’ve found and known to be part of the Truth; we only enrich our understanding by opening to new experience of it.

The key is love. We must honor and encourage relationships that are based on real love and caring for one another. When two persons love each other and are committed to one another, they are not a threat to society; rather, they contribute to a higher morality by manifesting more of God’s love in the world. We should encourage loving, committed relationships, regardless of the persons’ sexual orientation. It is only hurtful and hateful use of sex and power that should be condemned.


Blogger Janet & Seth said...

Glad to see Walt stepping into the waters! It was nice to meet ya'll at the last meeting ( which was my first meeting.) There is alot here to unpack, I am going to have to print this out and take it little nibbles. There is some good and provocative stuff in what you wrote Walt, although I think my initial inclination is to disagree with you. Mostly on the point of using love as a measure for committed relationship as marriage and identifying that with long term homosexual monogamy? Like I said I better read this more thoroughly before I write anymore. Janet

10:44 AM  
Blogger Walt Marston said...

Thanks for responding, Janet. I don’t want to add too much more until I hear more from you and others. But, a short comment on your line about “using love as a measure of committed relationship…and identifying that with long term homosexual monogamy?” Yes, I am saying that long-term monogamous relationships should be supported, regardless of the persons’ sexual orientation. I know many gay couples (many Christians) who are in committed long-term (life-long) relationships. Their love is more deep-seated and pure than that of many heterosexual couples in marriages. Whether we call it marriage or not, I am certain that these loving relationships are “of God.” If we can’t go that far (marriage) culturally and politically, can’t we at least go there in our hearts?

A good read on this topic is David Myers’ (the Hope College prof’s) “What God has joined together?”

Thanks again for your thoughtful comments. I welcome further insights on this complicated issue.


1:17 PM  
Blogger Janet & Seth said...

I am still thinking about a lot of this! Went to Hope(10 yrs ago)& was taught by Prof Myers. Hope is where all the trouble started and I became a follower of Christ!

I am curious about the concepts of what is "deep seated" and "pure" about longterm relationships. I have worked with many homosexuals and heterosexuals trapped in "long term relationships" who have ended up so broken because of their emotional addiction to abuse/love. I think love can have qualities of purity if it is expressed beyond feeling/emotion. Love also has action in it that can express itself in hard ways. I think that's why Greeks had so many words for different kinds of love... because I feel love doesn't make it right or pure. Kind of like the 70s mantra of the time "It feels so good, it must be right". There is also a love that says, "because I love you, I cannot allow you to remain ignorant of your sin, I will speak truth to you."
One last thought, marriage does not equal long term relationship. Marriage is a covenant between God and Man and Woman. That is a contract that binds 3 ways, as I understand it. I don't know of any instance in the bible where God convented himself with 2 men in marriage nor with 2 women in marriage. I have no problem with people who wish to enter into a civil contract and do what they will together, but it isn't a "marriage" nor in the covenant domain with God. I agree that most hetero-christians today probably don't understand what covenant means or they would not enter into it so dang lightly and let it go so easily. Christians today are a poor example to the world, but homosexuals are not a good example either.I don't agree that homosexuality is an orientation, and I too have dear friends who are gay and believe in Christ.

3:11 PM  
Blogger pomo_pilgrim said...


It was good to talk with you in the last emergent gathering. It is good to meet a fellow Christ Follower that is taking a deeper look at this issue and not just buying into the claims of the modern church.

Although I think you know my stance on the issue, I wanted to respond to a couple to things that you said.

What I have found by becoming friends with many homosexuals is that there is a gay culture among us. I have seen it; I have conversed with people who are deeply a part of it. This culture is a reaction by those who reject them. This culture is one where they can feel accepted and loved by those in the same circumstance.

I also think that there is a straight culture; it is just so vast that we are just blind to it. Look at most bars, clubs, entertainment, even pop culture as a whole is centered on being straight. It has just been in the past 12-15 years that homosexuality started to surface in pop-culture. Even know it is still a huge deal when a celebrity ‘comes-out’ (i.e. Ellen).

As I mentioned before, I agree with the very heart of the message of the evangelical church; that homosexual marriage does not line up with God’s plan for creation. Nothing changed with the new covenant. Jesus never talked about two members of the same sex getting married. Marriage in its purest, God honoring form is reserved for one man, and one woman.

With that said, as a Christ Follower and fellow messed up broken human, I have no right to deny two homosexuals that are not in God, to be happy and be in a long term commitment. If they want to call it marriage, there is nothing I can do about it; to try and stop it would be to put up walls between the homosexual community and the Gospel. I personally don’t care if the government wants to offer homosexuals the same benefits as a straight married couple, I don’t think it matters, I think culture is heading in that direction anyway.

Jesus never concerned Himself with political matters such as these. He deeply cares about injustice, and making sure the poor and destitute are taken care of, but when it comes to issues such as these, He really didn’t partake in any political activity. For this I agree with you.

I also agree that we should react in love when it comes to the homosexual community. We are all broken messed up people desperately in need of grace. This past summer I started spending some time in Discussions, a gay-friendly coffee shop in Grand Rapids. As I began to form relationships with people, and love people, people started to trust me. This was a beautiful thing. For the first time in their life (as some of them communicated) they actually listed to someone that talked about Jesus. This wasn’t a hard thing to accomplish. It just took love, and the ability to look past their issues and life-style.

This is a good conversation, let’s keep it up. I would like to see a gathering dedicated to this issue. I think it would be beneficial to those trying to reach this post-modern culture, sense some of the most post-modern people are homosexual.

Peace out,

Patrick Fore

5:39 PM  
Blogger Walt Marston said...

Thanks, Patrick, for your very thoughtful comments. There are so many facets to this issue, it's hard to know where to go with it sometimes.

I certainly recognize that there is a gay culture, but as you say, much of it is a reaction to those who reject them. Also, I think it's strongest in the adolescent and early adult years when many people, gay or straight, are struggling with a lot of developmental issues.

Most of my friends are in their 40s or 50s and they truly are in loving, committed relationships, not part of a separate gay culture involving promiscuity or unhealthy sexual activity.

Even though our experiences are different, I recognize the validity of your experience and I appreciate the loving way you are responding to it.

I was just reading an article by David Myers of Hope College you and others might find interesting.
It's at (if link is broken, just copy and paste it in)

I, too, hope we can keep this good conversation going in the spirit of Christ's love.


10:11 PM  

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