(the issue is not)homosexuality.

1 Jun



imagine the scene :: jesus just finished what is now his best known teaching – the sermon on the mount – a practical manifesto for this new Way. the dry heat of the galilean sun beat down on the son of man as he and the disciples descended the mountain. the amazed crowds follow through the dust kicked up by this rogue rabbi who taught differently than the others – this one spoke like he actually knew what he was talking about.

he’s just touched on nearly everything, and their heads must have been spinning as they tried to make sense of it all – the benefits of living for his unseen kingdom; how to pray with meaning; turning the law of moses on its head and replacing its rigidity with a law of love.

who was this guy, anyway?!?

key phrases still lingered in the ears of the listeners, now making their way down the rocky path.

‘treat people the same way you would like to be treated.’

‘don’t judge until your own life is free from dirt.’

‘don’t just love those who look, act and think like you – love your enemies, too.’

as the Great Teacher led the way down the mountain, perhaps in an effort to put skin on his words, matthew in his gospel describes a leper approaching.

one who is unclean. rejected. perhaps even sinful.

from beyond the borders of community the outcast approaches, asking if this ‘christ’ would be willing to make him clean. and what does the rabbi do?

he touches him.

this leper’s dying flesh was literally eating away at him, and jesus breaks jewish custom and law, reaches out his hand and touches the man.

in front of the crowds who followed him, watching.

his contact immediately brings healing and restoration – life to that which was dead. the leper’s flesh becomes made new, surging with the power and the energy of a life of love.

i wonder what his followers thought. i wonder if this encounter changed how they viewed the next leper they saw, shunned by the masses as he crawled through the crowds declaring, ‘unclean! unclean! i don’t belong!’

i wonder if it changes us.

i am convinced the seeming inability of many christians to appropriately engage in conversation with the LGBT community is merely symptomatic of a much deeper issue – how we view ‘the Other.’

but the issue is not homosexuality. we do the same with muslims and hindus, with atheists and agnostics. we do it with christians that think differently regarding baptism or remarriage, or those who get a little too charismatic when their favorite worship song is played.

the issue is…us.

we struggle to put the words and message of christ into action with anyone who thinks differently than us. too often our churches and conversation demand conformity prior to connection.

what it would look like if we stretched out our hands and touched the Other?


21 Responses to “(the issue is not)homosexuality.”

  1. Melissa Anderson June 1, 2012 at 7:54 AM #

    Beautiful. That’s the only word for this post. I think it’s your best one yet. It points me toward the goal of Christ-likeness, shows me just how far I still have to go, yet inspires me to remain on that journey because of how beautiful the end result is.

  2. Terri Vaughn June 1, 2012 at 10:10 AM #

    Fantastic, Michael. I needed this reminder first thing this morning. Thank you for sharing your heart and really challenging me on what it truly means to live and love like Christ.

  3. the WayWard follower June 1, 2012 at 11:03 AM #

    thank you both for the kind words. i hope that in conversation we can challenge AND encourage one another to better love well.

  4. mddanner June 1, 2012 at 11:28 AM #

    How does the good news free us from the trap of “in group” vs “out group” dynamics? How do we embody such freedom from within multiple “little kingdoms” of our own making? Is this even possible without completely jettisoning every definition of success that our culture supplies and our egos crave?

    • the WayWard follower June 1, 2012 at 1:56 PM #

      great additional questions, michael. galatians 3:28 has been popping up in a number of conversations i’ve been having with our college students recently :: ‘there is neither jew nor greek; there is neither slave nor free man; there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in christ jesus.’

      i’m increasingly convinced when we approach the conversation from a place of celebrating what we have in common – starting that we’re made in God’s image and moving forward from there – we move closer to the heart of christ, and remove ourselves more and more from the kingdoms of this world.

      • mddanner June 2, 2012 at 8:35 AM #

        Thanks for the response, Michael. I find “in group” vs “out group” dynamics so powerful that even after you responded with, what I think is, a good word from Galatians (have you seen what Rollins does with this?) Christopher drags us right back into the “in group” vs “out group” dynamic.

        Paul, in Galatians, says that IN CHRIST these barriers no longer exist. But that statement also includes a qualification that can be a barrier – In Christ. “In group” vs “out group” dynamics haven’t changed, the line has just been redrawn. Now the question is gay sex. People that want to exclude gays simply say that anyone who has gay sex is sinning and can’t be a Christian. Therefore they are not IN CHRIST so Galatians doesn’t apply to them. That’s Christopher’s point, if I’m reading it correctly. He maintains the boundary of desirable vs. undesirable. For Christopher, conversion is moving from one group to the next, it isn’t the obliteration of groups all together.

        To break down this barrier takes a different approach, in my opinion. I would suggest that the way Rob Bell heads in Love Wins, as well as Gully and Mulholland in If Grace is True, is a better foundation. Christocentric universalism offers a better path to full inclusion (which is why we won’t have full inclusion). Ultimately what we share, along with being made in God’s image, is that we are in the undesirable camp (not to get too Calvinistic here). I’m not “better than” anyone else for any reason. We really are saved by grace through faith not of works.

        That’s the challenge of the gay Christian for many (David Fitch does great work on this in The End of Evangelicalism?). The gay Christian dares to actually believe that we are in fact saved by grace through faith not of works. Therefore, being gay is not a barrier to salvation for if it were the person would be saved by works, not grace. This is evangelicalism’s dirty little secret. We say we believe in salvation by grace through faith and not of works, but we really don’t. That idea is far too inclusive if you take it to its natural conclusion (like Bell, Gully and Mulholland do). We say that salvation has nothing to do with works of any kind. Yet, without judgement by works why do we need to be saved at all? Why do I need to be saved from something that doesn’t even factor into my salvation? Then, the kicker, why does what I do matter so much after I’m saved, when it didn’t matter before? Are we really saved by grace and judged by works afterwards in order to prove we are really saved to begin with? That’s a logical pretzel.

        Enter the hermeneutic of suspicion. What is the power play here? What elements of control are being exercised? I think that if we robustly believed what we said we believed, the fear is there would be moral anarchy. So evangelicals still keep the law around in order to have some measure of social control. Only the evangelical move is nothing more than the pharisaical move of old. The “law” is blind to the sins of those who define what the law is. The law is harsh towards the sins that those who define the “law” don’t commit. So we aren’t up in arms about greedy Christians or self-centered Christians – because that’s what our church growth models depend on. But we can’t say that sin doesn’t matter, can we? So we pick a sin to be hard on that most aren’t likely to commit – being gay. The majority within the church is nothing more than a big bully picking on the vulnerable. Matthew Paul Turner asks about the lack of public moral outrage by Christians against all of the hate speech directed towards gay people. The answer is found in every Jr. High in America. Better to be friends with the bully than to have the bully pick on you. Nobody joins the vulnerable – except Jesus, of course.

        In the face of raw power, the way of Jesus is still foolishness. The resistance to gay inclusion is based in power not love. The tool that the powerful often use is division rooted in fear.

      • Mr. G June 2, 2012 at 8:19 PM #

        Hermeneutics as you know, dictate that there are rules to the road. If you drive down a one way street your probably going to crash. Ignore the rules and do so at your own peril. Pluck out Galatians 3:28 and compare it to Romans 11:25 and you appear to have a contradiction. This cannot be because the Bible DOES NOT contradict itself, that’s one of the rules. You therefore must keep searching for a theology that fits both (or all) interpretations. You also have to include the ENTIRE Bible, to do so is not only despicable Hermeneutics but troglodyte eschatology. The Old Testament explains the New, and the New answers the questions provided by the historicity of the Tonach. The only thing that matters is what does the Bible has to say on any given issue, and yes let “us reason together”, but in the end we have to be true to His Word. This is not directed toward any single individual, but I felt convicted to post this here because of what I have been reading. Obediently I have done so.

      • Carlynn Jurica June 3, 2012 at 8:14 AM #


        Perhaps you’re driving by the wrong rules, mate.

      • mddanner June 3, 2012 at 3:54 PM #

        Mr. G, who says that the Bible does not contradict itself? Who made up that rule? This is the problem. What you consider to be hard and fast hermeneutical rules are not necessarily agreed upon by all who would seek to read and understand the scriptures. Which brings us right back to Michael’s point, but in a slightly different direction. What criteria do you use to determine who is with you and who is not? Liberal vs. conservative?

      • Mr. G June 3, 2012 at 10:39 PM #

        If the total sum of your hermeneutics and eschatology come from that page MJK posted, then no doubt you are not even following the “rules” at all. Seriously, do the research and find out what he is missing. God may not have reveled everything in the Bible, be He has revealed enough. Without a STRONG Jewish cultural interpretation you will translated incorrectly. Never before have we had so many translations with which to place side by side and see the differences. Differences which should make us ponder why did this guy think it meant that, and the other guy this? I have done a great more deal in my studies than just read that link you provided me, which I also found interesting. Can’t think for yourself apparently your happy to let others do it for you. Speaks volumes about your personality and flavor of Christian conviction and devotion to your studies you must practice. I saying this as a Christian in the light of “iron sharpening iron”, not to be egotistical or rude. That is not me or my intent. Truth and the correct understanding of God’s Word is what I am about.

      • mddanner June 4, 2012 at 9:25 AM #

        Mr. G, (I’m assuming that you are responding to my comment, but I’m a bit unclear. If not my apologies) I asked you a pretty straight forward question about your hermeneutic that you refer to as “the rules”. Since you brought it up, I think it’s fair to ask. You’re reply assumes a lot about my education, due diligence in study and so on. That’s not an answer to my question. Where did the “rules” you refer to come from? To say things like “Can’t think for yourself…” is a great way to obscure the question I asked. I’d prefer an answer, not a string of assumptions and ad hominem attacks, and condescension. Where do your hermeneutical rules come from (where did you learn them) and by what authority are your rules THE rules for everyone who reads and interprets scripture. Thinking for yourself involves questioning not just taking from within a particular tradition and assuming that is the only way. I’m anabaptist, which may account for some of our differences, but I’m just curious about where you are coming from.

  5. Christopher Godau June 1, 2012 at 7:36 PM #

    “I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.” –Mahatma Gandhi

    Poetic and picturesque reminder of how Jesus treated rightly those we unjustly judge prematurely. And yet we find in John 8: 3 The teachers of the law and the Pharisees brought in a woman caught in adultery. They made her stand before the group 4 and said to Jesus, “Teacher, this woman was caught in the act of adultery. 5 In the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?” 6 They were using this question as a trap, in order to have a basis for accusing him.But Jesus bent down and started to write on the ground with his finger. 7 When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, “Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” 8 Again he stooped down and wrote on the ground.9 At this, those who heard began to go away one at a time, the older ones first, until only Jesus was left, with the woman still standing there. 10 Jesus straightened up and asked her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?”11 “No one, sir,” she said.“Then neither do I condemn you,” Jesus declared. “Go now and leave your life of sin.”

    See there in lies the rub: “Go now and *LEAVE* your life of sin.” Don’t *STAY* an undesirable. That is where the church really fails if you ask this Christ follower.

    • mddanner June 2, 2012 at 8:44 AM #

      Christopher, what do you think is the likelihood that this woman walked away and lived a sinless life? Do you think Jesus knew what her life from that point would be like? Do you think he believed she would live a sinless life? He likely knew she wouldn’t, which makes his remarks good instruction for her. What it doesn’t do is make Jesus’ remarks the basis for future judgement. Do you think Jesus would have done the same thing the following week if this same woman found herself entrapped by the Pharisees and facing imminent death? I do. He did it because he loved her, not because he thought if he saved her this one time and gave her some good instruction that she would walk blamelessly and without sin for the rest of her life. Yet, to use this passage in the context in which you do is to imply that everyone who is saved from death by Jesus walks away sinless. If that’s that standard I’ll see you all in hell because it’s impossible. So nobody else, just gay people, willfully and knowingly sins following conversion?

      • Christopher Godau June 2, 2012 at 1:17 PM #

        You overestimate the forgiveness of God, continue to do the same sin willingly over and over and He will not forgive you. The wages of sin is death. You are playing the same game Paul calls out in Romans: where some asked “if God is so forgiving than shouldn’t we sin even more so more people see how forgiving He is?”.

        Secondly, I’m not sure other than the articles title why you believe I was using the Bible verses from John “in context” moreover in which you say indicates “everyone who is saved from death by Jesus walks asway sinless.”? A clearly false statement.

        My point was that the church tends to allow us to believe we can continue to live sinful lifestyles or lives, precisely because of these types of cavalier attitudes toward God and His Word.

        Also mddanner, not that what I think matters, but no I don’t think that just gay people willfully and knowingly sin following conversion.

      • mddanner June 3, 2012 at 4:08 PM #

        Christopher, there is a big difference between trying to out sin God’s grace and the reality that all people, at one time or another, even after conversion, make the choice to commit particular sins, sometimes over and over (think addictive cycles, or the good Paul wants to do and doesn’t and the bad he doesn’t want to do but does, and so on).

        I am flattered by the notion that I have, somehow, overestimated the forgiveness of God. I thought Paul’s point was that nothing (not anything) could separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus. I’d hate to think that after Paul went through all of those examples of what can’t separate us from God’s love in Jesus (which, again, is pretty much everything) that there is a small asterisk with a few exceptions.

        To your point (and perhaps I read too much into it) about the woman caught in adultery, I guess I would ask what you did mean by pointing out that Jesus called her to go and sin no more? Most of the time when folks use this verse in a context about forgiveness, inclusion of any sort, and so on they are highlighting the need to stop doing whatever sin it is that we are talking about as a condition for forgiveness. But, again, I would raise the question – are we saved by grace, through faith, NOT of works or not? If we are, what role does sins committed in the future play in our salvation? Are we, after we have been saved by grace, judged by works?

        You can call my approach a cavalier attitude towards God and his word if you want. I’m not sure you have enough evidence based upon a few blog comments to support such a claim, but if you are comfortable with that go for it. I just preached a series through 1 John and one of the main points is that John holds together the love of God and our ethical response to that love in community. Loving God means keeping the commandments, not in fear because God isn’t as forgiving as we think God is, but in love which overflows and spills out onto others. You can’t love God and hate your brothers and sisters.

        I prefer to think I have a realistic anthropology.

  6. the WayWard follower June 2, 2012 at 4:10 PM #

    for those who’ve not read peter rollins’ treatment of galatians 3:28 :: he writes,

    The apostle Paul once famously remarked that in Christ Jesus there is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female. He does not say that there are both Jews and Greeks, both slaves and free, both men and woman. Rather this new identity with Christ involves the laying down of such political, biological and cultural identities. This is not an expression of ‘both/and’ but rather ‘neither/nor’. Today this idea can seem almost offensive to our ears. In many churches we find flags proudly hanging in acknowledgment of our nationality and we seek to express our political and religious ideas as a vital and irreducible part of who we are. But what if the church is called to provide a space where, just for a moment, we encounter one another as neither Jew nor Greek, male nor female, slave nor free? And what if Paul didn’t just mean these three categories, as if all the others remained intact? What if he was implying that there is neither black nor white in Christ, neither rich nor poor, neither powerful nor powerless? What if we could go even further and say that the space Paul wrote of was one in which there would be neither republican nor democrat, liberal nor conservative, orthodox nor heretic? Indeed, in the spirit of the text, what if we could offer an interpretive translation of Paul’s words that would read,

    You are all children of God through faith in Christ Jesus, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither high church nor low church, Fox nor CNN, citizen nor alien, capitalist nor communist, gay nor straight, beautiful nor ugly, East nor West, theist nor atheist, Israel nor Palestine, hawk nor dove, American nor Iraqi, married nor divorced, uptown nor downtown, terrorist nor freedom fighter, paedophile nor loving parent, priest nor prophet, fame nor obscurity, Christian nor non-Christian, for all are made one in Christ Jesus.

    for michael and christopher, it is interesting that you pose these questions – just this morning i was engaged in a conversation about forgiveness, our (un)worthiness of grace, and what our ‘salvation’ really means. i’ll repeat here what i spoke earlier today :: we are all undesirable. and that is the beauty of the gospel – the good news – that while we were yet sinners, christ died for us (all). like hosea’s prostitute wife, we continually wander even after our ‘conversion’ and whore ourselves before other gods. and yet he continues to pursue us and bring each of us into his loving embrace as one who is desirable. to me, this understanding of the gospel is somethings so much more beautiful than anything i grew up with. salvation. by grace, through faith, and not of works indeed.

    christopher, you state in your last comment :: ‘you overestimate the forgiveness of God.’ my position is it is impossible to overstate God’s forgiveness. here is our hope (from the not-often-quoted book of lamentations) ::

    ‘the lord’s loving kindnesses indeed never cease, for his compassions never fail. they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.’

    without this ‘overstated’ truth, we’re all damned to the same hell we so easily prescribe to others.

  7. Brandi Benjamin June 3, 2012 at 1:55 PM #

    Just so I am clear, do some of you believe that homosexual behavior is NOT a sin? Do you believe that repentance is necessary for forgiveness to occur? If you do believe it is not sinful and worthy of repentance, please provide your scripture references to support your beliefs. Thank you.

    • mddanner June 3, 2012 at 4:47 PM #

      Brandi, I love your question because it gets to the heart of the matter, doesn’t it. The heart of the matter, however, isn’t whether or not gay sex is a sin, or can ever be life-giving in some contexts. The heart of the matter is how do you read the scriptures? If all I have to do is show you a Bible verse that I think proves my point, then we don’t read the scriptures in the same way. That’s called proof-texting and its how Christians supported things like American style slavery, the abuse and subjugation of women, and other evils throughout history. If all I need is A verse, I can usually find it.

      I’ll throw a little oil on the fire: 2 Samuel 1:26. Susan Akerman argues that this is one of 6 passages in 1 and 2 Samuel that talk of a homoerotic relationship between David and Jonathan (there is a pretty good summary of the relationship between David and Jonathan on wikipedia). I’m not a Hebrew scholar so I have little ability to assess the validity of her arguments. I’m sure they are in the minority, but present none-the-less. It’s enough that I could provide it as a positive example of same-gender relationships that may (or may not) have involved sex.

      For me, it is clear that in the OT gay sex is called an abomination. In the NT, the OT prohibition against gay sex is upheld. Yet, it isn’t clear that the Old or New Testament has in mind same-gender sexual contact between two people within a loving, healthy in all other ways, monogamous, covenant relationship. The same-gender sex acts in the OT and NT have other elements to them such as sexual battery, pedophilia, temple prostitution, idol worship, social irresponsibility – i.e. spilling “seed” on the ground (or anywhere else) which could have resulted in offspring when deposited in the proper place (which is actually a big deal in the OT) and so on.

      Compared to the Bible’s clear teaching against things like greed, neglecting the poor, killing people (even your enemies), divorce, etc. there simply isn’t the depth of material. I’ll go one step further, compared to the Bible’s clear teaching FOR things like slavery and the abuse of women (including having concubines and polygamy) there isn’t the depth of material. Put another way I can find a lot of Bible verses that make a much stronger case for slavery and abusing women (which I’m pretty sure God is against) than I can against gay sex. For me, that puts it in its proper perspective.

      The question is not inconsequential, but if we are, indeed, saved by grace initially but judged by fidelity to God’s commands after, there will be a lot more people in hell because of greed, gluttony and idolatry of other sorts than for being gay. (We haven’t even begun to talk about how straight sex, even within marriage, can violate all kinds of scripture prohibitions, especially in Leviticus.)

  8. Brandi Benjamin June 4, 2012 at 9:33 AM #

    I joined in this discussion because I am a Christian who happens to have several gay friends, whom I care deeply about. I want them to know the Jesus that I know, but I struggle with how to get them to church considering that I believe the Bible is abundantly clear that homosexual acts are sinful. I was hoping to find others who are struggling with this same issue, but I am disappointed to find moral relativism. I am disheartened to see Biblical truths being dangerously twisted to conform to secular beliefs. Jesus showed love to ALL people, but he was completely INTOLERANT of sin. We all know that
    He says the road is narrow – it is not ours to widen no matter how deeply we desire to do so. Blessings to all of you, but I am officially out of this discussion.

    • mddanner June 4, 2012 at 10:08 AM #

      Brandi, there is a huge difference between moral relativism (the idea that all morality is culturally constructed) and being honest about the kind, amount and nature of the Biblical evidence we have about particular topics, such as homosexuality. I would recommend the book The Moral Vision of the New Testament by Richard Hayes (prof at Duke Divinity School). He does an excellent job of dealing with how we use the Biblical material to create a moral framework out of which to live.

      What Biblical truths, specifically, are being dangerously twisted to conform to secular beliefs? We are right back at Michael’s main point in the post. Our problem is in engaging “the other”, be that someone who is gay, Muslim, Jewish, or, perhaps, reads the scriptures differently. We are too eager to take our ball and go home when we encounter ways of approaching subjects that may be different. We label ideas as dangerous, imply that people have impure motives, imply that they are leading people away from Jesus (I was actually accused of overestimating God’s forgiveness – go figure), and so on. I’m not sure how that helps?

    • Terri Vaughn June 4, 2012 at 10:29 AM #

      Thank you, Brandi. I, too, have been following this thread and have become increasingly disheartened. I love Michael’s original post and how it centers around the question of Christ-like nonjudgemental LOVE. I am from a Southern Baptist bible belt background and have gay friends who have been hurt/traumatized by the hate and anger directed toward them by “the church”. I also believe that homosexuality is a sin. I am finding myself in a season of growth concerning Christ-like love towards these individuals, as well as any individual who is different that I am and believes differently than I do. It is an exciting time for me and my spiritual journey. But this thread, in my opinion, has started down a slippery slope of “wordiness” and technicality which is in direct opposition to Michael;s original post.

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