Part II: To the Conservative Christians Fighting for the Integrity of the Church

March 4, 2014 · 6:00 am

The views expressed here are my own, and are not necessarily those of my family or friends.  This is part two of a two-part series in response to the ongoing conversations at Eastern Mennonite University and Mennonite Church USA about how to live with our LGBTQ brothers and sisters.

Dear Conservative Christians,

I am speaking as someone who understands that you see changes in the church’s acceptance of homosexuality and believe that they reflect a weakening of regard for the authority of God’s Word. I know how important this is to you, and I know you are trying to do the right thing.

I am speaking as someone who believed, until a few short years ago, that the practice of homosexuality was wrong.  I am speaking as someone who changed my mind. Let me be clear: I am not trying to persuade you of anything.  I only want you to understand me.

I grew up believing, like you, that the Bible was inerrant and true and that homosexuality was a sin.  But faith isn’t just an admission stamp that you get on your hand when you become a Christian.  People change and grow, and their relationship with God changes and grows with them.

As a child, when I heard passages in the Old Testament about violent massacres and brutal atrocities that were committed at God’s command, I was told that it was okay – that things were different before Jesus came do redeem us, and that now that He has come, we are a people of peace.  I accepted this.

Then, as I got older, I heard of the genocide in Rwanda. In high school, I visited the Holocaust Museum.  In college, I read about the Christian Crusades.  The horror of recent history overwhelmed me and the next time I went back to read those same Old Testament stories, they were far too real.  I decided that hurting and killing people like this could never be okay, whether in Darfur today or in Israel several thousand years ago.

I experienced a crisis of faith and asked myself, “Who is this God that I am following?”  I tried to make sense of the many stories of God that I have read and been told and been telling other people for years.  I tried to solve this puzzle, but found myself with too many pieces – pieces that didn’t fit together and didn’t match. I wrestled with God, like Jacob, begging for a blessing – begging Him to tell me His name.

I found a piece of the puzzle that said, God is love, and I held on to that.  I found a piece that said that the greatest two commandments are to love God and love your neighbor, and I held on to that.  I found a piece that said God requires justice and loves mercy, and I held on to that.  I found a piece that said love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins, and I held on to that.

In my desperate search to understand who God is, I lost something.  Now, when I read the Bible, I am cautious instead of trusting. Being unable to read the Bible as a completely authoritative source of guidance for my life has felt like suddenly becoming deaf or blind. It is terrifying. It is painful. I have never shared this before because I was afraid you would think that I’d lost my faith, and I knew that would break your heart. I don’t feel like I’ve lost my faith, but if you want to pray for me to find the truth, I welcome it.  I hope we all find the truth.

I still believe that the Bible is true, but I see it differently now.  Before, I was looking at the Bible as a window into the will of God.  When I unexpectedly caught the reflection of humanity in those stories, I found that it’s been a mirror all along – a mirror reflecting thousands of years of humans trying, and often failing, to do the will of God. Although we can’t use the mirror to see God’s will directly, we are made in God’s image, so with discernment we can use that mirror to look for the likeness of Him in our own reflection.

When I read the passage in the Bible demanding death to homosexuals, it bears no likeness at all to the Man who saved an adulterous woman from the lawful sentence for her crime.  I can’t help feeling that it bears a great deal of likeness to our past justifications of slavery, sexism, and racism.  There are parts of the Bible that allow the owning and beating of slaves, but as a people, our conscience protested against this and we abolished it.  There are parts of the Bible that forbid intermarriage based on ethnicity and language, but as a people, our conscience protested against this and we rejected it. There are parts of the Bible that demand that women of the church be silent and subservient, but as a people, our conscience is protesting and we are changing.

The idea that homosexuality is a sin is hurting a lot of people. Lawmakers in the U.S. and abroad are proactively trying to legislate against the civil rights of LGBTQ people. LGBTQ people who attend our churches and schools are being asked to stay in the margins: to be ministered to, but never to minister; to be taught, but never to teach.  I want more than anything for the places I call home – my schools and my churches – to also be a home to the LGBTQ people that I love.  There are parts of the Bible that say homosexuality is a sin, but I see pain and discrimination and injustice and my conscience protests. I want to do what’s right.

Part I: To the Progressive Christians Fighting for LGBTQ Rights

8 Thoughts on “Part II: To the Conservative Christians Fighting for the Integrity of the Church

  1. Hi Esther,

    While I don’t know you, I have known your family for a number of years.
    I appreciate your honest vulnerability in putting your thoughts in the public arena. As I read this I think of a faith crisis I have walked through in the last several years. I was struck with how God could be mad and kill people (Nadab and Abihu) who were likely earnestly worshiping God, even if it was in their own, independent way. What struck me through this time is that I want to place my conscience on a higher level of authority than what God has revealed. Nadad and Abihu followed their hearts and God punished them for it. Our consciences are so easily warped. You seem to have grasped the side of God that yearns (and died) for the ability to accept us messed-up people. I would ask you to ponder what it means that God is pure, holy, and righteous. Imagine what it would be like to be completely clean! How horrifyingly repulsive Hitler’s cruelties must have been to God. How disgusting my unkind thought at my coworker today! He surely can’t stand either. That is how I understand the cruelty God commanded in the Old Testament, the merciless judge who throws people into Hell, and the loving Savior who has died to make a path to Himself that was open for Hitler, myself, and the Canaanites of the Old Testament.

    I also appreciate that you are not trying to rewrite the Bible but just struggling with its authenticity. To further the struggle, if the Bible is more a mirror of people than a revelation of God, then one must view Christ very differently than the incarnate God. He accepted the Old Testament as the revelation of God, quoting it with authority when tempted by the devil or questioned by the Pharisees. One must disregard the literary, archaeological, and prophetic witness to its divine inspiration.

    The issue is not one of earnestly seeking the truth, in my perspective. Rather, it is seeing God through a dark glass. God has given us His word and His Son to live on this side of the glass. We look at these and squint through the glass with fallen hearts. Which will we trust more?

    • Thank you for sharing your thoughts. I realize that there is a certain level of arrogance (for lack of a better word) in giving authority to conscience over scripture. That being said, it wasn’t so much a conscious choice as it was a realization that my position had changed: I found myself unwilling to give unbridled moral authority to a scripture that depicts genocide, among other things, as the will of God. This isn’t to say that I believe the Bible is patently untrue. But I believe it was written by men, and men often confuse their own agenda for the will of God.

      • I can appreciate the moral struggle regarding a God who condones genocide. More than that, the Bible presents God as one who committed mass genocide in the flood. I struggled with the word “genocide” but the definition fits when I looked it up. When genocide originates in the hearts of people it is generally racially motivated. When genocide comes from the heart of God it is from His holiness and justice. The biggest genocide in history (the flood) was judgment. Judgment against the Canaanites was postponed 400 years for their sin to be complete (Gen 15), while the Israelites were in slavery. Later, God used the Babylonians to judge Israel. So the question to grapple with is, did God sin against the people He killed in the flood or that He told the Israelites to kill? What about the babies? (Ezekiel 18 tells us that a child is not spiritually held responsible for the parents’ sin, though we see every day how sin effects them. So while the Canaanite babies were killed, I understand that they are with Jesus today, unlike their parents.) Does it make a difference if He commanded to clouds and springs to destroy the world, or command the Israelites to destroy the Canaanites? Does He have the right to take life in an unnatural violent way? Anyway, I feel like this is coming across preachy, when I think working through this deeply is a good thing. May God guide you as you seek Him.

      • You make some good points, especially in terms of how we view natural disasters. Thanks for sharing.

  2. Jodi Schiedel on March 27, 2014 at 9:15 pm said:

    Esther, thank you for writing this. I struggle to articulate my thoughts and feelings related to my yearning for an inclusive church. I appreciate the nonthreatening format that you chose because I feel that I can share this with people on both sides.

  3. John Stoll on April 3, 2014 at 1:47 pm said:

    The Man who save an adulterous woman from her lawful sentence for her crime also said, “Go and sin no more.”

    • You’re right, and I don’t mean to suggest that Jesus doesn’t call us to a life of holiness. What I’m trying to say is that, “Go and sin no more,” is such a vastly different response from, “They are to be put to death; their blood will be on their own heads.” It is hard for me to reconcile what very much seems like two different characters of God.

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