Homosexuality and the Church: The Agenda of Unity in Christ

1Miniature_depiction_of_Andrei_Rublev_Trinity

based on "The Trinity," icon by Andrei Rublev

by Kathy Kwon

These days, I wonder about the possibility of certain theological disagreements in and of themselves being more "right" than any of their comprising opposing theological positions.

In other words, is theological disagreement always primarily about defending propositional truths? Or is it—more often than we recognize—an opportunity for the church to give glory to God more splendidly than it ever could in a unilaterally opinioned institution?

A loaded question indeed. Yet more and more I am convinced that the majority of our disagreements within the church are to a much greater degree about the body of many parts of which Paul speaks in 1 Corinthians 12 and Romans 12 than about the need to chop off a hand or gouge out an eye from the Sermon on the Mount.

We need to need one another for the sake of the world.

As someone who's been on a personal journey with my own sexuality as well as a theological journey with marriage and same-sex relationships, I've encountered many opportunities for a watching world to witness the fullness of Christ through "effort[s] to keep the unity of the Spirit". Sadly, more so than not, I've seen such opportunities either ignored or abused. Ironically, it would seem the firmer people desire to stick their heels into the ground on any number of positions on marriage, the more leverage they lose on the grounds of Trinitarian love—by diluting the Gospel, moralizing it, or other such idolatries.

I thus find myself in a profoundly uncomfortable position in my life. I have come to a more "liberal" stance on same-sex relationships by way of a theological journey that I now wish to apply to a ThM thesis on church unity. Though I have seldom admitted it to myself, let alone to others, I often feel tempted to abandon my post and follow an easier route.

However, every time I have felt tempted to coalesce back into a more "acceptable" stream on marriage over the last year, I've been called back into the tension. I have struggled immensely with why God has called me into a place so lonely, alienating, and vulnerable to constant rejection, judgment, and criticism.

Then two weeks ago, I took part in an ecumenical dialogue on sexuality and the church. The dialogue consisted of 12 individuals ranging the gamut of conservative to liberal theological persuasions on marriage; of Catholic, Orthodox, Protestant, and evangelical traditions; of ages; of backgrounds—you name it. What held us together? Our profound commitment to Christian faith, Scripture, and the Gospel of Christ, and our desire to see the church healed and, itself, transformed into a healer of brokenness from unloving words, deeds, silence, and inaction around disagreements on sexuality.

"Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace…"

Never before have I seen such an instant binding by the Spirit of God of people so differing in theological persuasions, or such commitment to, not simply unity of propositional thought, but unity in Christ.

Since this dialogue, I've begun to consider with greater conviction that "conservative" and "liberal" are merely descriptors for one's socio-political leanings that nevertheless say very little about one's devotedness to our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ and his Gospel of the coming Kingdom of God. Since the dialogue, I can honestly say that I feel a deeper affinity to, for instance, a Presbyterian elder—one with a clear conservative view on marriage and women in leadership, yet an equally vehement and outspoken opposition to the wide array of subtle and overt mistreatments of LGBTQ people within and outside the church in the strong name of Jesus—than I do many folks with similar stances on marriage to my own.

And there is a sacramentality to the beauty of the work of the Holy Spirit among brothers and sisters who are forced to lean all the more deeply into "unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God."

I will end with Ephesians 4:1-6 as a challenge to all who hope to stand by propositional truths that seemingly contradict those of one's brothers and sisters in Christ:

I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.

Amen.

Kathy Kwon is an M.Div. alum of Regent College in Vancouver, BC, where she studied historical theologies of the moral significance of sexual difference. She enjoys running around in circles, singing praises to the Lord, riding motorcycles, and disguising her cynicism as "idealism" and "realism."  She blogs at BonnesConneries.

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8 Responses

  1. Don Wilkinson says:

    Please remove me from your mailing list. After reading the piece about Homosexuality and Church unity, it appears that ESA is moving (or has moved) to a position of accepting "gay marriage" as a tenable marriage option for Christians. Jesus never placed the position of unity in the Church ahead of His truth. There seems to be a growing acceptance of gay marriage by the evangelical left. This is unfortunate for it is driving a wedge between conservative evangelicals and those less so. It is the left that is disrupting the unity of the Church, not those who accept orthodox, historic Christianity. Christ's people will never accept gay marriage as a viable Christian marriage. Those who do accept gay marriage as a Christian option should be viewed as being heretical and their Christianity suspect. Their view seems to be set by our culture's view of marriage, not the Christian marriage.

    • Kathy Kwon says:

      Hi Don,

      Thanks for your input here–I believe you hold to convictions shared by many Christians! And for that reason, perhaps I could encourage you not to remove yourself from the ESA mailing list? I can say that the ESA does not, in fact, support my view on marriage, and would fall under the category of graciously allowing me space to voice my views out of my studies of Scripture and Christian theology.

      The reality is, I may very well be wrong on this, and you may very well be right; I do not purport to know the fullness of God's Truth let alone his revelation to his people in all time and places–nor can anyone. In which case, it is likely all the more important that you stick it out with an organization like ESA for the sake of your brothers and sisters in Christ who value the voice and opinions you have on matters of Christian orthodoxy.

      Either way, thanks for taking the time to voice your opinions.

      Peace,
      Kathy

  2. Jonathan says:

    This is embarrassing. I kept waiting for the author to make a point and suddenly found myself reading, "I will end with…"

    • Kathy Kwon says:

      Hi Jonathan!

      Thanks for your comment to the piece I wrote. As it stands, I made several points–points that, for example, Don Wilkinson felt very strongly in opposition to as to want to be removed from ESA's mailing list. So I wonder–perhaps the issue is that you were waiting for me to make a point with which you agreed?

      That said, regardless of whether or not I made explicit points with which you could agree or not, I believe public discourse on matters of Christian conviction ought to involve both propositional input as well as narratival input–much like Scripture itself, where you have narratives, parables, poetry, history, epistles, etc. All important to our conception of the nature and persons of the Triune God and his call to his people.

      Happy to hear more pushback from you though.

      Peace,
      Kathy

      • Jonathan says:

        Kathy,
        I am puzzled to know just where you stand on many of the issues you touched on. That is the reason I was frustrated that there was no point made in your article, only vague teases.

        I am uncomfortable with your positioning 1 Corinthians 12 and Romans 12 in contrast with what Jesus says about the grave seriousness of sin. Jesus is quite clear: repent of sins, turn away from them and flee from them. And if something in our lives prevents us from resisting sin, we need to remove that thing from our lives.

        You are convinced that God has called you to take a stand on undefined same-sex relationships. God conveyed something to you personally. That is all well and good, but if you mean to make this a public issue, the public deserves to hear why they should trust you. Why has God asked you, in opposition to His original design for humans (Genesis 2:24,25) to promote another design? You say that you want to promote unity of the Spirit and yet you want to draw new lines in the sand which automatically creates divisiveness.

        What is important to you? What is your reliable resource and guide, your staying power? If you believe you have stated this already, please indicate where.

        One more thing that I find notably missing in your liberal position on same-sex relationships is self-denial. All Christians are called to deny themselves, to die to their own desires. How do you justify allowing same-sex relationships to pursue their desires?

        Sincerely,

        Jonathan

        • Kathy Kwon says:

          Hi Jonathan,

          Wow! Hahahahahaha. Sounds like you had some pretty high expectations of my 750-word blog post. Each of your questions could (and have been) impetuses for entire dissertations with respect to ecclesiology and authority, theological and biblical anthropologies, nuptial and covenantal relationships, etc. etc. I don't know whether to be flattered or concerned!

          On the one hand, it sounds like my article achieved more with you than I could have hoped—leaving you in an "uncomfortable" position that led you to ask very excellent and necessary questions with respect to the nature of authority, disagreement, marriage, sin, and unity.

          On the other hand, the very many expectations you seem to have of my contribution strike me as rather consumeristic—very much in line with a "If this blog post didn't answer my personal questions, it sucked" ilk. You will likely know that we work within constraints when writing blog-type posts; they are by definition "vague teases" in that no one can be expected to *responsibly* tackle a theological topic in 750 words—nor should they claim to have! I, thus, find it rather strange that you wrote my article off simply because I hadn't answered the questions you wanted me to. Turns out I wasn't writing it only for you, and many Christians have benefited from the article just as I wrote it, according to the many challenging and edifying follow-up conversations I have had with folks holding to a variety of views on same-sex marriage.

          I will, however, address at least one of your concerns, which I understand to have been your most important one. Self-denial. I believe you meant with respect to my view on same-sex marriage, however, I have found non-face-to-face conversations on that particular topic to largely be filled with vitriol and hatefulness given peoples' lack of integrity between their online and physical behavior. And based upon the online conduct reflected by your first comment, you will have to forgive me that I don't trust you not to engage me in such a disrespectful way online.

          I will say, however, that my entire article is a call to self-denial; it is the very thing that is necessary to understand unity *specifically* in the person of Jesus Christ. You and I are children of a deeply arrogant Enlightenment mentality suggesting that somehow the mind of God can be known and grasped with utter certainty—that the "authority of Scripture" actually trumps the authority of the Author of Scripture… We only have to look to the history of Protestantism in the past 500 years and the disgraceful infinite splintering of denominations to recognize the implications thereof. We presume "uniformity of interpretation" despite the fact that even the New Testament writers did not hold to uniform interpretations of the Old Testament, and despite the fact that Christ constantly forced his disciples and opponents to wrestle with unanswered questions and tensions.

          A typical conservative contribution to sexuality conversations is "standing up for the 'truth'" as if somehow conservativism has a monopoly on truth. What truth? Whose truth? Ironically, you ask questions about my "staying power" when one of the main points of my article is that I recognize I don't have a monopoly on propositional truths. Which again suggests to me that you were not listening to me so much as projecting your personal qualms upon me.

          Unity of a Trinitarian nature inherently demands self-denial. We must deny our assumptions that we have figured out with certainty the mind of God—that the truths we hold to are necessarily the Truth of God. If ever there was a heresy in all of this, it would be the heresy of idolizing certainty on matters of sexuality on the part of both polarized liberals and conservatives. It takes a great deal of self-denial, humility, and faith in the authority and sovereignty of the one true God to put a question mark where a period once was—to put judgment in God's hands (a la the parable of the wheat and tares in Matthew 13) and submit ourselves to Christ-like love and fellowship offered to those we believe do not deserve such from us.

          In that you hold to a more traditional view on same-sex marriage (which I can very much respect), I commend to you Matthew 13:24-30 with respect to both the ecclesiological and ecumenical questions you raise. The parable of the wheat and tares strikes me as a more contextually appropriate exhortation here than "fleeing from sin," since Christ spent a great deal of time with sinners. I may very well be a "weed" that the "enemy" sowed, headed straight to the raging fire of hell on the day of judgment. But in the meantime, I offer you the parable's challenge to patience, not uprooting wheat with the tares, but waiting for the Harvester to judge. Neither you nor I has the authority to say with certainty who will be welcomed into the New Jerusalem and for what reasons. And that should have very real implications for how we understand unity in Christ in the meantime.

          I recognize you will likely be disappointed in my response since I've refused to engage you on how "same-sex marriage also upholds self-denial," but I will pray for thoughtful, faith-filled dialogue partners that are more local to you. I also hope that in my straight-forwardness, I haven't disrespected you or treated your concerns lightly. I am still very much in a learning process with respect to that balance when someone can't see my hands and face as I speak (haha), so do let me know where I've misunderstood you or been unfair!

          Again, I welcome your feedback.

          Grace and Peace,
          Kathy

          • Jonathan says:

            Hello Kathy,

            I just this moment finished reading this reply posted January 27th. My apologies. I had anticipated an automatic notification that you had replied.

            I will quickly say a few things that are on the fore of my mind.I was not requesting that you greatly expound anything, but that you lay down the clear foundational roots of your belief. For example, I live by faith in Christ, the Son of God. I believe He reveals the truth and a rightful understanding of it in Scripture. The entirety of Scripture focuses on the Gospel of Christ and His making salvation available to all through faith, not by works.

            Maybe that is not clear to you. If not, let me know how I can elaborate. I am asking what your basic belief is so I can understand the context in which to question you. Do you believe that Scripture is infallible? Do you believe the meaning of Scripture has changed over time? Do you believe that God is just, and if so, does He provide a standard by which He judges? If so, is that standard known or unknown to humans?

            God is far more gracious than I can comprehend, but it is a practical impossibility to believe that God is gracious if He does not have a standard. Do you follow? If there is no standard by which we ought to live, then grace cannot be shown to us when we break His standard. This is the brass tacks I am wanting to get from you. Is there any point to showing any sinner grace if we sinners get to make up our own standard and live as we please so long as we love everyone. I believe that the models of life, living and lifestyle that God gives us in His Scriptures are the model for living a life of love. God's love cannot be simplified to permissiveness.
            My attempt is to be clear, distinct and straightforward, so you understand where I am coming from. If you are willing to share, I would like to get a similar understanding of where you are coming from.

            Thank you for responding, Kathy. I hope to hear back from you again. I will check more frequently.

            Grace and peace,

            Jonathan

  3. Cedric Parker says:

    Hi Kathy

    I have been deeply concerned about the kind of reception that gay folk would receive at our church for some time. I have felt deeply burdened for a woman friend I have known for a long time who is married to another woman and the man who cuts my hair (who is married to another man). I know that they feel alienated by the church because they anticipate negative judgement because of their sexual preferences.

    I thus took advantage of our senior pastor's recent invitation to devote a Sunday message to any spiritual/biblical questions that we had. I emailed him these four questions:
    1. Would Grace be prepared to marry gay or lesbian couples?
    2. If not, would Grace condone intimate relations (sex) between a committed gay or lesbian couple who have been married in a civil ceremony?
    3. Would Grace want to try and 'reform' gay or lesbian folk to become straight?
    4. Would Grace allow gay folk to minister in the church?

    He covered these questions fairly briefly on that Sunday – but said that the church leadership had been so challenged by these notions that they would devote a whole evening to discussing them.

    Last night our pastor shared his views – which largely coincided with yours Kathy. I felt liberated and joyful that our church is moving towards an acceptance of faithful same sex relationships. I don't believe that anyone chooses to be gay (as our pastor emphasized) – and our church motto is "Come as you are". I have fought prejudice in my own heart all my life – but I have increasingly felt that we are called to love and accept each other for who we are. This doesn't mean that we accept antisocial/hateful conduct – but it does challenge us to really get to know one another guided by the Holy Spirit.

    Reading your blog less than 24 hours after hearing our pastor's inspiring thoughts I interpreted as a revelation I could cherish. This has not been an obsession with me – but the marginalization of the gay community by most of the church has always troubled me. I feel liberated and far better equipped to reach out to gay folk I meet. For the record I am heterosexual.

    Thank you for your deeply sensitive reflections.

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