John Elliott Lein

Writer, Artist, Designer and Theology Nerd

Becoming a LGBT-Affirming Christian

J. Elliott LeinComment

Over the weekend I shared on Facebook that I have been on a three-year journey towards affirming LGBT Christians and same-sex marriage. I'm reposting some of what I said for the blog.

Here are some of my reasons for changing my mind, in no particular order, and without attempting to be a completist:

1) History

I found that the church has a history of repenting of what appeared to be clear Scriptural teachings supported by centuries of tradition after being confronted with the pain they cause (over 50% of preachers in 1860 supported slavery based on Scripture and they won the debates from a literal exegesis; teaching that the Jews were a cursed race based on clear verses from the gospels was an ecumenical Christian doctrine for 1,900 years until we saw the results of the Holocaust; interracial marriage and desegregation were strongly resisted by Biblical texts; etc). Today we find this ridiculous, but that's because we don't live in or often understand the past very well.

2) Translation/Interpretation

Interpretation and translation are human endeavors which cannot be separated from cultural assumptions and biases. The modern translations we use today, like the NIV or ESV, make verses seem very clear that are actually quite ambiguous or different in the original languages. There was a marked change in translation of certain words in the 1970s, just as fear of the "gay agenda" was growing (the word “homosexual” was first used then in translation, 100 years after it was introduced scientifically and just before it was removed as a disorder by medical professionals). For example, “wantons” (GNV), “effeminate” (KJV), and “male prostitutes” (NIV 1973) are quite different from “men who have sex with men” (NIV 2011), all of which are translations of the Greek “malakos” in 1 Cor 6 which literally means “soft” (used to describe Herod’s soft clothes in Matthew 11), metaphorically “morally weak” or “associated with feminine things, sometimes describing a womanizing heterosexual who loves women too much” (hence, “wantons” in 1599’s Geneva Bible).

Screenshot from my work-in-progress book on the topic.

3) Experience

Our faith is founded on the experience of God and recognizing the movement of the Spirit. It started with Abraham having an encounter with God, and being blessed to be a blessing to all the nations before he was given any rules to follow or rituals to perform. Christianity is based on a small group of Jewish peasants directly encountering the incarnate God, and radically reinterpreting their entire theological understanding and view of their Scriptures based on that undeniable experience. Paul, the most learned and devoted to the Hebrew Bible of all our apostles, rejected Jesus and the Way completely until he encountered the living Christ. In Galatians he appeals primarily to the experience of the people in the Spirit, not references to Scripture, in resisting the Judaizers encouraged by the culterally-accomodating Peter (accommodating religious exclusivity by his friends, not inclusivity of the world). Earlier, Peter baptizes uncircumcised Gentiles against his belief system because he witnesses the Spirit at work (Acts 10). In Acts 15 the Jerusalem Council reluctantly sets aside their tradition which they understand from the Scriptures due to the testimony of the works of God amongst the Gentiles (think how "icky" an unclean Gentile was in that culture!). The Ethiopian eunuch, a sexual minority, was baptized by Phillip in contrast to the tradition he knew (males with deformed genitalia were excluded from religious involvement by Scripture). Jesus said the “Spirit will guide you into all truth”. Paul said “we see through a glass darkly”. I think we continue to learn and grow in our understanding of God and the Bible, as we remain willing to hear the Spirit speak through people around us. I see the evidence of the fruit of the Spirit in the LGBT Christians around me, and this experience has changed me. I believe this is completely orthodox Christianity, especially if we look back at point #1.

4) Movement 

I’m not alone. There are many long-respected leaders in the Evangelical Christian world who have recently changed their minds on this one issue. Tony Campolo, David Gushee, Ken Wilson, and others have recently shared their long and careful journeys to embracing sexual minorities in equality. They do so in full knowledge of how much rejection they face from their own religious culture, their friends and family, as I have as well (nothing compared to the rejection many church-raised, Jesus-following LGBT Christians face though).

5) Love 

Jesus said "By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another". It seems like that says the people outside our community would look in and say that we are really loving according to how they understand love, which at this point doesn’t seem to be the case. I believe love is defined by 1 Cor 13. The second greatest command is "love your neighbor as yourself”. I believe we can only love people by being in relationship with them. To get to know their story and their heart before we earn the right to tell them how to change, because only then can we love them in the way we would want to be loved if we were them. I believe same-sex relationships have equal portions of companionship, emotional intimacy, self-giving love, and sexual desire that heterosexual ones do - with equal variation on an individual basis. Paul wrote: "Now concerning food sacrificed to idols: we know that 'all of us possess knowledge.' Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up. Anyone who claims to know something does not yet have the necessary knowledge; but anyone who loves God is known by him." (1 Cor 8) Anyone who loves God, is known by him. If “God is love”, and “everyone who loves is born of God and knows God" (1 John 4), then love reveals where God is. And love cannot exist as an abstract concept, but must be a lived experience, in relationship. “Loving sinners” cannot be done without relationship. 

6) The Prophets 

I believe that the testimony of the prophets and Jesus were to turn our hearts from doing ritual worship and rule-following for God, and to care for the oppressed and hurting among us. I believe that Isaiah, Amos, Malachi, and Jesus told us that God is worshipped and glorified when we care first for the people around us. Without that, he doesn't listen to our prayers, our "hands are full of blood" (Isaiah 1).

7) Where's the harm?

There’s a lot of information that seems to say there is inherent harm in LGBT relationships, and we should protect people from that by telling them to give up hope of ever having the kind of family and loving relationship we heterosexuals take for granted is available to us. Yet, researchers aren’t finding this. All professional medical associations, who are pledged to “do no harm” (and who by the way, are happily condemning pedophilia), endorse same-sex marriage. Studies show that kids who are adopted into same-sex families (so much better than not having families at all, right?) do at least as well if not slightly better than in heterosexual relationships (it’s a very deliberate choice, no “accidents”!), individual anecdotes aside.

8) What is biblical marriage? 

None of us follow “biblical marriage” if that’s defined as following the pattern we see in Scripture. We mostly see polygamy (only ever restricted from Bishops/“overseers of pastors”), and there is plenty of acceptance of concubines, having relations with your slave women, and marrying your sister-in-law to continue the inheritance/genetic line. None of that is explicitly overturned. Jesus and Paul seemed to have a much higher view of celibacy than marriage. Acts describes something that looks more like a hippie commune than family units. Early church fathers declared people heretics for saying that marriage was even equal in importance to celibacy. Some castrated themselves in devotion to New Testament teaching. Others went the other direction, with clerical polygamy legal until the 8th century. Marriage wasn’t a church sacrament until the fifth century and not part of Catholic cannon until 1547, and Martin Luther wanted to keep it an entirely civic matter. Our current understanding of the nuclear family as superior and set apart from community comes from the 1950s culture. Doesn’t mean it’s necessarily bad (though even TGC’s Kevin DeYoung warns about the idolatry of the nuclear family in the modern church in his new book on homosexuality), but it’s certainly the product of our culture not the Bible. Procreation ability is not a criteria for heterosexual marriage, and some of these couples have already been together for 70 years.

9) “Gay lifestyle”?

I see this word used often in conservative concerns, yet many gay people are baffled by this phrase. Sure, there are a fair share of promiscuous, outrageous LGBT people, but there are plenty of heterosexuals like that too. And if what you’ve been told all your life is that you’re an abomination, inherently flawed in your desire for relationship, is it a shock when some people live that out? I’m so excited about this new generation who can begin openly providing examples of God-honoring, healthy same-sex relationships, which our Evangelical churches have never encouraged or supported.

Conclusion

Finally, if self-loathing, depression, substance abuse and suicide are the results of preaching the gospel, then it is not Good News. I have a very high view of the "Euaggelion"!

So, there's a bit of my story. It’s hard to condense the 50k words or so I’ve already written during my research. I'd be happy to dialog any time in person or electronically. I'm not interested in fighting, but I love respectful conversation about two of my loves, the Bible and Jesus Christ.

Overall, please remember I’m just a supporter who is learning, and making mistakes. If you really want to understand why many of us think the Spirit is speaking to the church from where we would have thought was the most unlikely place (like the eunuch and Gentiles in Acts), listen to the people who have everything at stake and know this intimately, like Matthias Roberts, Patrick Berquist, Matthew Vines, Brandon Robertson, Gene Robinson, Dale B. Martin, and many others.