I’m lucky enough to have a Christian academic friend who has proved an enormous help over the years as I have sifted through my accumulated weird and not-so-wonderful rag-bag of charismatic evangelical beliefs. Usually he would say very little as I sought to draw him out on yet more superstitious clap-trap; he would just listen intently – and then with laser accuracy, pose a quietly explosive question. Once we knew each other well enough, he confided that he used to think that people who actually believed all that kind of stuff were ‘nutters.’ Even that comment brought a little more freedom to my spiritually schizophrenic soul, our laughter effectively pinging off yet a few more strands of any lingering bonds.
‘Nutters’ – it sounds somehow sad yet harmless. But this morning I clicked on a youtube video to find a story of American evangelical funding being diverted from feeding the hungry to pushing for anti-LGBT legislation in Uganda – which originally included the death penalty.
It throws Steve Chalke’s candid stand last week against the traditional evangelical line on homosexuality into sharp relief. And also contextualizes Steve Clifford’s official Evangelical Alliance response, which though seemingly-respectful, nevertheless emphasizes their stance that homosexuality is clearly incompatible with scripture.
I was convinced of that myself, once. Not that I really gave it much thought. After all, not so long ago, homosexual acts were illegal in the UK, so those of us old enough to have been around at the time, grew up accepting that they were just wrong. The fact that this was apparently borne out in scripture was unsurprising.
There’s an old saying that used to be quoted in my NLP ‘modeling’ class: ‘you can’t understand someone until you have walked a thousand miles in their moccasins.’ As evangelical Christians, we were taught that scripture was clear enough for us not to have to engage in any real ‘understanding’. But when I finally woke up to the fact that I had never heard gay Christians themselves represented in our church teaching, I began to take steps to listen to the experiences of any who were prepared to risk opening up to me.
The stories were diverse. I had extensive conversations with some who were petrified about peers in their church learning about their sexuality, to others who had come out about their sexuality but believed they should be celibate, to a number who had repeatedly asked for prayer, or put themselves through ex-gay ‘programmes’ – including some who had self-harmed or attempted suicide when it failed to change them – to a few who had found a measure of peace and contentment in a heterosexual marriage, to others who were deeply frustrated with their experience of heterosexual marriage, some who divorced and then settled in monogamous gay relationships… and so on. Such a wide range of personal experiences and beliefs about scripture and how it played out in their lives. Definitive scriptural truth continued to be beyond my grasp; but these deeply painful experiences did at least show me that what I had been taught amounted to little more than old wives’ tales mixed in with a pinch of shallow conjecture.
And meanwhile, something else had been happening. Hearing and engaging with these stories had drawn me out in a way that my attempts to arrive at a clear biblical line never had done. I broke through the need to arrive at the objective truth on this issue by discovering a deep sense of affinity with and care for many of these friends who were having such an agonising journey.
And surely that is the whole point? Coming up with an objective scriptural perspective on gay sexuality may be beyond our scope. But maybe the very impossibility of producing a crystal clear scriptural line underlines the fact that the really important issue is the foundational call to love one another? That much, at least, really is crystal clear in scripture.
And when care for one another not only flies out of the window in our obsession with scripture, but potentially leads to utilising church donations given in good faith to push through harsh anti-gay legislation – then continuing to be a Christian ‘nutter’ has surely gone way beyond a laughing matter.