Letters to my sister, Part 3

November 23, 2011 | Viewpoints | Number 23

In this final instalment of a three-part series of back-and-forth letters, Faith Elaine Linton and Joyce Gladwell wrap up their conversation on homosexuality. (See Part 1 and Part 2.)

My dear sister Elaine:
I am so glad you have decided to omit the subject of homosexuality from your talk. I have been thinking some more about the baffling problem of homosexuality and our treatment of homosexuals.

The puzzle is this: Usually as Christians we respond with care to people who suffer. Why do we stand back from the distress of homosexuals? I think it comes down to what we do with Scripture. You and I were raised on the authority of the Bible as “inerrant and infallible.” The message we got was that nothing in Scripture could ever be changed. Do you know anyone who has followed through on that?

Not all Christians now hold that the universe, ourselves, our world and everything in it came into existence in the span of seven days of 24 hours. Nor do we hold that the world is flat. We no longer stone or burn people to death for their sins. We eat pork and shellfish, wear clothes of mixed fibres, and you, a woman, preach to a mixed congregation without wearing a hat!

The changes in that list are not about the basic tenets of our faith: the nature of God, the person and work of Jesus, and so on. They have to do with our everyday lives and what we know about the world we live in. When we raise questions about homosexuality, we are not questioning the fundamental issues of our faith. We are reconsidering the way we view and treat our fellow human beings in our time and culture, people who are caught up in the tragedy of the human condition.

To my mind, this exercise is well within our mandate and competence. More to the point for us Christians, there is prec-edence in Scripture for moving beyond the attitudes and approaches of biblical times past. Christians since biblical times have already been doing that. We don’t just counsel slaves to serve and respect their masters, we free them from slavery; we no longer stone and burn people for their sins, we seek to understand the roots of crime in human nature and society, and we work at prevention and rehabilitation. We move with the insights and knowledge we have gained. We believe that knowledge is from God, and we trust the leading of the Holy Spirit.

As I said, there is precedence in Scripture for change at the level of our relationships. Remember how Jesus challenged and revised Judaic teaching: “It was said of old, love your neighbour and hate your enemies. But I say unto you, love your enemies, and do good to those who hate you.” Jesus was changing the way his fellow Jews viewed and treated the people around them. We are allowed under God to change those views and ways. It happened in Scripture; it has been happening in recent church history.

For me, the most striking instance of change is how Peter changed his deeply held views, decreed in Leviticus, about uncircumcised Gentiles after the vision God gave him. God prepares us when he has something new to teach us. I believe the Holy Spirit is now rattling the bars of our caged thinking about homosexuality.

We can learn more from Scripture about the way to deal with homosexuals if we are willing to look. When we try to come up with a biblical approach to homosexuality, we usually tend to focus on a selection of verses, for example from Leviticus and Romans, and we overlook the gospels entirely. I know there are no references to homosexuality in the gospels, but Jesus did say and do many things that we can apply to our approach to that problem: Jesus tells us how we are to interpret the “accidents” of a fallen world, and he showed us how to treat the people we label as “sinners.”

Consider Jesus’ reply to the Pharisees who asked, “Who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” Jesus said “No one sinned.” When things go wrong in the world, it is not always someone’s fault.

Read as well how Jesus rebuked the disciples for wanting to call down fire on the villagers who rejected Jesus’ presence. Do we also deserve Jesus’ rebuke for going to extremes in wanting to root out “sinners” from the Earth? It is almost as if we are trying to do a better job at dealing with sin than we think God is doing.

Consider especially Jesus’ parable about the wheat and the tares in Luke. The workers were somewhat over-anxious in wanting to weed out the tares. The landowner cautioned them: “Leave them alone, or you might weed out the wheat as well. Let both grow together to harvest.” I wonder how it would sound if we applied that caution and advice to people with different kinds of sexual orientation and say: Let gays, lesbians and homosexuals live and thrive in society with dignity and social acceptance. Let them marry according to their orientation with the same privileges and restraints as heterosexuals until God’s time comes to wrap things up. We can leave it to God to do the sorting and judging.

Do you think you could ever come to such a position? I suggest that if the people you minister to ask you about homosexuality, you direct them to the example of Jesus and his compassion for people in all conditions of life. He touched the leper when religious leaders decreed lepers should not be touched. He spared the woman taken in adultery when Scripture decreed that she be stoned. Encourage the Christians you teach to draw near to gay people, to listen carefully to their story without judging or preaching at them, to find out about the available information and research that is ongoing, and to wait prayerfully on God in the company of like-minded Christians for what new word God may have for us over this issue. The current situation is intolerable.

Our love and prayers to you all.
Joyce

Elaine’s response

My dear sister:
Your latest letter sums up your perspective and your point of view very well. I am wholeheartedly with you in much of what you have said, but it is clear that we don’t agree and may never totally agree about everything. It reminds me of what church history teaches us! The wonderful thing is that we have been able to share deeply and frankly. We have both benefitted from each other’s insights and knowledge, and we have tested and proved the strength of Christian—and sisterly—love.

Lovingly, Elaine

See Part 1 and Part 2 of this series of letters.

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Comments

I'm curious how Joyce would then interpret Jesus' command for his disciples to be a disciplined community where brothers and sisters confront one another and admonish an 'erring brother'. It would seem that somehow what Jesus said about the wheat and the tares must also jive with what Jesus said about holding one another accountable, which must also jive with Jesus' comments about taking out the log in one's own eyes.

Scripture interpretation on sin, accountability, etc... is complex and not as easily cleared up as Joyce suggests in her quick sampling of scripture.

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