“The gospel isn’t inclusive by refusing to take sides. The gospel is inclusive by insisting that anyone can join the side of the oppressed which is where Jesus is found.” – Aric Clark
A theologian whose work I follow said this yesterday in response to a tendency he sees in much of modern preaching to strive for neutrality on controversial issues. It reminded me of an article (which I will link to excessively in this post) I read soon after the tragic events in Ferguson, MO back in 2014 that took a hard look at the biblical story of the Exodus.
Now, the article talks about racial injustice and reconciliation, something that I’d like to take a closer look at in the future.
But I also believe it speaks to the topic I introduced yesterday: my journey towards the full affirmation and inclusion of the LGBTQ community in the Christian faith and life of the Church.
35 Now the sons of Israel had done according to the word of Moses, for they had requested from the Egyptians articles of silver and articles of gold, and clothing; 36 and the Lord had given the people favor in the sight of the Egyptians, so that they let them have their request. Thus they plundered the Egyptians.
37 Now the sons of Israel journeyed from Rameses to Succoth, about six hundred thousand men on foot, aside from children. 38 A mixed multitude also went up with them, along with flocks and herds, a very large number of livestock.
(Exodus 12:35-38, NASB)
Do you see it?
It’s right there at the beginning of verse 38.
A mixed multitude went with them.
That means non-Hebrews, people who had to choose to align themselves with the people of God.
God, it seems, chose a side.
And more than a few, seeing that God locates Godself on the side of the oppressed, decided to locate themselves there as well.
To quote what I believe is author Anderson Campbell’s the most powerful line in the article (seriously, just read it): “When those in the dominant culture recognize whose side God is on, the only faithful move can be to join that side, regardless of the personal cost.”
Note that in the original article, this line had a footnote observing that: “Even choosing to join a side is a reflection of one’s power. The Hebrews didn’t get to choose sides, but the Egyptians did.”
Sounds like something I talked about in yesterday’s post.
I know that a good many of you who are following my posts on this subject want to hear me talk about the “clobber passages”, i.e. those verses in the biblical text that appear to condemn homosexuality.
I assure you that your wish will be granted later this week.
But before I get to those passages, I need to express the real reason I made the choice to side with the LGBTQ community.
I believe God sided with them first.
I came to a place where I could affirm the LGBTQ community biblically and theologically a few years before I made the choice to publicly stand in solidarity with them.
I’m not proud of the fact that it took so long for my heart to catch up to my head.
But my ambivalence largely stemmed from the fact that I did not have a personal connection to the debate.
In the words of theologian Preston Sprinkle (who I’ll note does not agree with me on this issue), I was viewing the LGBTQ community as a problem to be solved, not a people to be loved.
I had read all the books (literally), but I hadn’t take into account the ways God might be presently working in and through the LGBTQ community.
Two things changed that.
First, the adult son of a prominent family in our church came out. As I watched this family go from a state of shock and fear to, with time, a place of absolute affirmation, I simultaneously witnessed my church’s support for this family dissolve.
To be sure, my church was doing their best with the options they felt the Bible afforded them. Emotions were running high on both sides and it wouldn’t surprise me if, given the opportunity, both sides might like to have at least a few moments from that painful season back.
But what stood out to me was the total impotence of my well-meaning church to speak life into the situation.
The second thing that changed my attitude was having children of my own. As I watched this family come to embrace their son unconditionally and ultimately come to a place where they could also unconditionally affirm his identity as well, I realized something.
I already had everything I needed to do exactly that if the situation ever arose. As I mentioned at the start of this post, I’d already done the scriptural work.
If my daughter, at some point in the future, came to identify as LGBTQ, I had every biblical and theological tool I needed to immediately and unconditionally accept and affirm her.
So why wasn’t I doing the same for the LGBTQ persons who were already present in our community?
It was a question I didn’t have a good answer for.
The only thing I could come up with was fear. Fear over losing my position, my stability, my comfort.
For many of you, this entire discussion is a non-starter so long as you remain convinced that the Bible speaks clearly against the affirmation of LGBTQ persons.
And of those who share such a conviction, I don’t doubt that most are convinced that the Church can navigate the tension between affirming the humanity of this community while rejecting their orientation, and do so gracefully and compassionately.
My experience has made me skeptical. But it helps that I also don’t believe the Bible says what this group thinks it says.
I also must admit that I may have been blind to what I now believe is the clear work of the Holy Spirit in affirming LGBTQ persons had I not first reconciled the theological and biblical obstacles that stood in my way.
But I also want to stress that this debate will move no closer to a positive resolution (whatever you might imagine such a resolution to be) so long as the Church refuses the recognize the work of the Spirit in the here and now, in the LGBTQ community itself.
Jesus said that the world will know us by our fruit, be it good or bad.
From where I’m standing, LGBTQ Christians are producing some excellent fruit. I look forward to highlighting some of it in the posts ahead.
A pastor and theologian named Jonathan Martin whose work often moves me wrote something last night that I found deeply relevant to my thinking here. I’ll quote him in full:
“Painfull truth: some of you can’t be faithful to what spiritual fathers/mothers invested in your past, without offending them in the present. Faithful men & women sow good seed into your future, but still don’t understand the wild ways the God in them grows in you now. Sometimes the only way to honor the God of your fathers & mothers, is to carry their dreams into places they would not choose to go. What insecure leaders call ‘rebellion’ is actually just differentiation–healthy, normal, necessary ways of growing up. Moses might say, from experience, ‘you find God on Sinai.’ But he taught you to know the presence you’ve now found on another mountain. Sometimes you have to follow the fire all the way back to the source: not into the temple, but the wild-where you find your own burning bush.”
I believe that God sides with the oppressed, always.
And so to be faithful, I have had to make a choice, a choice to part ways with the teaching and thinking of many who have loved me well.
It’s a painful choice.
But I believe that God speaks in the midst of these choices, revealing Godself in those moments where we are forced to find ourselves in solidarity with another, the other, out along the margins.
And if we make this journey to the far country enough times, we’ll stop being surprised to find that God was there all along.