The following was written as part of my theological studies and in response to the pain and suffering I have seen in my journey with the LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bi-sexual and Transgender) community.
All the stories told are taken from current literature, however I hope to continue and expand my research in 2011, with new examples and real life stories, taken from people that I have met.
If you or somebody you know would like to be interviewed, please let me know and we can arrange to meet.
Link to complete PDF here
Every book I have read about homosexuality and Christianity starts off with a statement about how the debate is tearing the church apart. After debating the issue for years, we are no closer to a resolution and it seems that homosexuality is becoming more divisive in the world wide church. Positions have polarized with the church community and the LGBT community in a face-off over who claims the correct Biblical interpretation and theology.1 But even within the church, denominations and congregations are being divided to the point of schism, and the unity of the Body of Christ is in disarray.
In the middle of the conflict are men and women, young people and old, who are genuinely wrestling with big questions about their sexuality and spirituality. Young people struggling with their sexual identity are scared to raise their questions in the church environment for fear of isolation and ridicule. These same young people summon up enough courage to “come out” to their parents, who in turn wonder what they have done wrong, hiding their struggles and questions from wider family and community. Slowly gay and lesbian people drift from the church, and the cycle of loneliness continues.
Our churches have argued the issue on biblical, theological and moral grounds for years, and agreement seems elusive. But as the battles rage, real people are being forgotten, left bruised and hurting, and wondering where they fit. While not tackling the more specific issues of the debate like gay marriage and the ordination of practicing homosexuals, it is the purpose of this paper to bring another approach to the issue that is based on our equality before God, the work of the Spirit in our lives, and the unity that the Spirit produces in our church communities.
This alternative approach requires journeying with the real people stuck in the middle of the debate, listening to their questions and seeking answers together. It is a pastoral response that has its grounding in scripture and in my experience of ministry over the last twenty years.
Recently I was speaking at a conference on sexuality and spirituality, taking a workshop on the topic of making the church a safe place to talk about sexuality.2 A group of about twenty explored a variety of areas within church life and practice, in particular how we could make “sexual discipleship” a normal and every day part of life in the church. At the end of the workshop, a quiet and unassuming young adult male gingerly made his way up to me. We exchanged some small talk and then he asked a question: “I’m gay, and I’d really like to get engaged to my partner and spend my life with him. But I’m not sure if it’s a sin or not. What should I do?”
I could see that this young man was genuine. His faith was real and his desire to live a life pleasing to God was something to admire. But he was also torn between the teaching he had heard (even at the conference), his own experience of life and what God wanted for him. And he simply didn’t know where to turn to ask his questions.
My response could have been drawn from the traditional, conservative church that said all homosexuality is an abomination in the eyes of God and even the thought of committing yourself to another man puts you in danger of the fires of hell. I could have also responded from the liberal end of the scale, dismissing his concerns and offering to perform a ceremony the next weekend. I believe neither would have been helpful. The questions that this young man was asking were not about his sexuality, but about God’s will for his life and allowing that to inform his choices. Thus, my response was not one that highlighted any one side of the homosexual debate, nor one that tried to convince him of one path in preference to the other, but a pastoral response that hopefully continued a journey of questioning and discovery taken within the community of God.
Homosexuality is often discussed at the academic and theological levels, with opposing sides trying to persuade the audience of the acceptability of the same sex orientation or of the need to conform to the traditional model of heterosexual orientation. However, for those who find themselves in the position of questioning their sexuality, the academic arguments rarely give any comfort and often cause more confusion than anything else. The pastoral response to homosexuality that I wish to explore draws on our understanding of human sexuality and focuses on the people and personalities for whom this is a life and sometimes death issue. Hearing the stories and indentifying with the struggles can, in turn, help the community of faith shape and expand its theology of sexuality and contribute to the unity of the body of Christ.
Pastoral care begins with the life and practice of Jesus. With those on the fringe of his society, Jesus was welcoming and compassionate, touching the untouchable, loving the unlovable and creating a community that saw all people as equals before God. His life included teaching on scripture and the condemnation of religious leaders who had twisted scripture to protect the institutional religion. But never did Jesus isolate those with a genuine response to his care and his teaching on the Kingdom of God.
Pastoral care in the church must reflect the care of Jesus by opposing rules that drain life, and instead, create a life giving community where burdens are carried together. Switzer says that pastoral care:
…*P]roclaims the word through faithful servanthood. In this service it reveals something of the quality of life in the kingdom. This does not mean that, at appropriate times, pastoral care does not proclaim the content of faith, share the scriptures or teach an ethical perspective…*I+t has its own set of procedures designed to produce the unique relationship in which a person in need might experience the love of God, see the servanthood of Jesus through God’s present servants, and possibly respond and grow in faith. The procedures and relationships of pastoral care distinguish it from acts of worship, preaching and teaching, even though all are united in one goal.
All people in the church are called to care for others. Love is a hallmark of the Christian faith and when it is lived authentically, love is what Christian people become known and appreciated for. Pastors, priests and ministers within the church are recognized as having the extra responsibility for caring for the church as a corporate body, in addition to caring for individuals and families that make up the congregations. The pastoral care provided by the pastor is, “The relationship of concern and service between the minister of religion and the people he or she serves within the context and with the motivation of religious faith.” Hansen paints a personal, powerful, image of the pastoral carer when he describes his calling to the pastorate:
Here’s what the pastoral ministry is for me: Everyday, as I go about my tasks as a pastor, I am a follower of Jesus. I am, therefore, a parable of him to those I encounter. The parable of Jesus works the power and presence of Jesus in their lives.
Pastoral care is a reflection of the love and care Jesus showed for people. The leaders and members of the church, as Hansen describes, are thus “Parables of Jesus”, being the flesh and blood that care for the sick, feed the hungry and clothe the naked. A pastoral response to homosexuality in the church will therefore will be motivated by the love that is characteristic of the Christian faith and serve to model the life and teaching of Jesus in a way that those who are recipients of that care are invited to embrace faith for themselves. A pastoral response cares for LGBT people in a way that meets their basic needs and shows God and God’s people as accepting and loving.
The story of Jesus and the woman caught in adultery in John 8:1-11 models this pastoral approach. There is a recognition of sin in the woman’s past, but there is no condemnation of her by Jesus. There is also recognition of sin in the lives of the crowd demanding the woman’s life be taken and neither were they condemned by Jesus. While we don’t know what happened to the crowd after they left, we do know that Jesus returned the woman’s dignity, showed her the compassion of the Kingdom and sent her away to live a new life.
A pastoral response to homosexuality will take the lessons learnt from the life of Jesus, and the love that is the basis of the Christian faith and live them out amongst people of the LGBT community. It will recognize the value of the debates, but it will also acknowledge that the endless arguments have left many feeling confused and unsure about who they are and where they stand with God. It will build bridges between the church community and the LGBT community that have their foundation in the grace and love of God, by encouraging hospitality and mutual support. It will seek to listen to the real stories of real people, apologizing for the inadequate and at times appalling treatment of the past and try to discern a way forward together.
Link to complete PDF here