I feel the need to point out the cognitive dissonance required to essentially be “open and affirming” to divorce, all kinds of heterosexual sex outside of marriage, alcoholism, past / repentant sins of all kinds, but not homosexuality. I think the battle line that has been drawn in the church is absurd to begin with, but just talking through the discussions that are being had around it, I have to point out what we do to ourselves. There are so many variations of “sex outside of marriage” that we allow to stay in the dark, or we ignore, or condone, or we condemn, but at the end of all of it, people who commit all those variations of heterosexuality can stay in leadership, can serve in most any capacity in the church, they can speak into the theology and culture of a community. But if they’re gay? They suddenly can’t do any of that.
There are these arbitrary ideas of being “above reproach” and “lifestyle sins” that have fallen into hard-and-fast laws in our believing community. First, I don’t believe you have to condone a leader’s sin for them to be a leader. If there is a person in leadership, they have sinned in the past, they are currently in sin, and they will continue to sin. That’s just the nature of humanity. Are we working to manage their sinful behavior? Are we policing their thoughts? Are we trying to mitigate the damage that they do as a leader? Is it the sin itself, or the consequences? Because there’s a huge distinction there. It eventually has consequences, I think we can all agree when scripture says that what’s done in secret is eventually brought to light. What do we do about it? What if it’s a leader? Those kinds of debates are fine, but you can’t convince me that some sins are manageable while others aren’t. I believe that’s a lie from the enemy, that pride is “okay” to an extent, so is greed, gluttony, gossip, whatever else, but sexual sin crosses the red line. And sometimes not even then. We’ve got arbitrary ideas about these things, and it leads to massive inconsistency in the practice of sin management. Everybody sins. Leaders sin. What are you going to do about it? For me, I disagree with how we rank our sins.
More to the point: If we are in the business of sin management, I’m out. I don’t want to do ministry if I’m just the Sex Cops. I hate that people feel the need to leave their church out of guilt when they mess up. And I hate how I’ve been trained to chastise people for their mistakes. Stop having sex with your girlfriend, stop masturbating to pornography, stop wanting those things. Problem solved. Except that this doesn’t seem to work for anyone. I have helped and been helped by others when there’s a shame-free, honest reckoning of what I am doing and how it has affected others. Sin management isn’t that. What we do in sin management is make people hide, and we punish them, which is God’s job. We rank ourselves, and it’s no surprise that the judges rank highest. Those who judge decide which sins are the worst.
Back when people were getting married at or near the onset of puberty, and having sex mostly for the purpose of procreation, there was still a problem with lust and adultery. I don’t think we can even imagine a systemic or societal solution to the problems created by our media, our broken relationship and marriage culture, or that we can undo what several generations have destroyed. I’m not saying we have to just let it ride, I’m saying, ministry as Sex Police has failed. It just has. The Holy Spirit convicts people, God changes people, and our role is to love him and love people. Outside of that, we are moving sexual sin into the dark and away from the shame and guilt that we have to offer. I think we’ve created a system where some sins are safe to expose, and some aren’t. So we condone the ones in the light (gluttony, pride, greed) and we condemn with malice the ones in the dark (homosexuality, among others). Then we are trapped in mutual separation, or isolation, whether we are gay or straight.
Do you realize we need gay people in our Christian communities? They have something we need. We need them. We need each other.
I want a leader who knows what it’s like to be an outsider. I want a leader who has empathy for those who feel they have to hide their sin, and who can speak grace to someone who has been hiding for so much of their life. I want a pastor who has been at the bottom of the sin ranking system – imagine the kind of love you’d feel from that kind of person. Imagine that kind of person pointing you to the best judge, to God, and how they would explain the Good Samaritan to your community. Imagine a community that would follow someone who has confessed their sin, whatever that may be, rather than whitewashing themselves so that they can fit whatever is popularly considered “above reproach” at that time. Imagine that.