So last week the openly gay Episcopal Bishop Gene Robinson and the Well-Spoken Evangelical Gabe Lyons had a different kind of conversation about the Church and Homosexuality. It happened at Stanford University, and it exemplifies the kind of cultural engagement that I believe needs to happen more. This week I watched this whole video, and after seeing it, I wish everyone could carve out time to watch it.
What’s different about this conversation is how both men approach this issue so differently, but both are so conciliatory. Notice how many times they find ways to say “I agree with that part of what you are saying.”
A few observations for those who don’t have time to watch it all:
1. Gabe Lyons (who long time readers of this blog may recall I sat down with to interview earlier this year) talked about orthodox Christian values about sexuality in a humble and Christlike way. He never went ad hominem on Bishop Robinson and in fact helped to reframe much of the conversation. For example, when Lyons quoted the conservative Presbeteryian pastor Tim Keller “Homosexuality doesn’t send anyone to Hell anymore than being Heterosexual sends someone to Heaven. The largest sins of pride and smug self-righteousness sit at a deeper place in the human heart.”
2. Bishop Robinson is incredibly gracious and conciliatory about something that isn’t just an issue to him. This is his life experiences they are talking about. And Bishop Robinson is incredibly pro-marriage. One of the places that he and Gabe (and I) agree on is that the LGBT conversation has forced the Christian community to have a more robust (and better) theology of marriage.
3. Gabe is on to something about the dehumanizing nature of allowing ourselves to be identified by our sexuality. For those readers who are at Highland Church, Gabe actually laid out the very reason that I did our Fall series “The Sequels: A new Perspective on Love, Sex, Romance and Dating” I think that the deeper sin of our day is the idolatrous way we think about relationships and sexuality. Anything that we say, “I cannot be a complete person unless I have that” is taking the place of God in our lives. And no relationship or sexual encounter can bear the weight of worship.
Notice that Gabe actually talked about how the Church has been guilty of idolizing marriage and sexuality. This is exactly the reason that we talked about this at Highland. In the words of Bishop Robinson, “To deny yourself and climb up on your own cross is self-sacrifice, to make someone else do it is murder.” I get the push-back to that statement, but what he’s saying is touching on the Achilles heel of any honest conversation for Christian sexual ethics. If the Church assumes that the marred life is the best or only way to be fully human, than we have to honestly look in the mirror and ask ourselves if this is really the “Kingdom of God” we are preaching or just a baptized American dream. I know a lot of Christian Singles who don’t want to mingle, and they would like to belong to a Church that realized that singleness is a valid way to follow Jesus (A Single Man!)
If we re-affirm the celibate single life as a robust and valid calling for following Jesus, than suddenly the Christian faith has something to call people toward, not just something to call people away from.
4. Both Bishop Robinson and Gabe said that basic human rights should be acknowledged and supported for every human being. This is vital to being Christian. I affirm the classic Christian view of sexuality, but even deeper than that I affirm that what it means to be Christian is to love our neighbor. And there is not a single label in the world that makes someone not my neighbor. Christians should be the people who are the most against bullying and ostracizing people who are sexual minorities, not because they are affirming any sexual orientation, but because they know that the image of God is present in every human being.
5. Pay attention to how Gabe puts all his cards on the table. He acknowledges that nobody wants to be known as being “against love.” And when this is presented as a progressive-justice kind of issue it becomes really hard to present a dissenting view, but then he appeals to our better instincts of being able to disagree and still respect and love each other. And then he redefines what it means to think of progressive views and the Bible.
Much of the time when we talk about Christianity and Homosexuality, we also say things about slavery and women and how the Scriptures and Christian tradition has slowly but surely progressed to a more just and humane view of the world God wants for everyone.
However, in the Scripture, the sexual ethic gets more restrictive as it progresses. People used to be married to more than one spouse, people used to divorce for any reason they wanted to…but Jesus and the New Testament actually call us forward toward monogamy, fidelity and celibacy (a huge idea for early Christianity).
In fact, historically speaking, the idea that sexuality was a gift from God that was meant for a man and a woman only in a covenant, that’s the new idea.
I think Bishop Robinson makes several great points in this conversation, and I hope we can appreciate and respect the life that has lead him to tell his story. I hesitate to write about homosexuality because it is such a polarizing topic, but I believe the only way forward is to start having different kinds of conversations about it. And if two very different kinds of Christians can talk about it in front of thousands of people at Stanford University, than I figure it’s worth the risk to talk about it here.
Because after all, God is for Love.
And love looks a lot like the conversation in this video.