Ten steps on my journey toward full LGBTQ inclusion continued:
5. I became convicted of my own complicity with a Christian teaching and practice of contempt or milder rejection toward LGBT people. I felt deeply sorrowful and repentant.
I was ordained to Christian ministry in 1987 and had been preaching for almost three decades before I changed my mind. I graduated with my doctorate in Christian ethics in 1993 and had been teaching young people for two decades.
I had responsibilities. I believed I was discharging those responsibilities properly.
But once I learned of the grave harm done by traditionalist teachings, I realized that, as a Christian leader, I had not led properly. As a pastor, I had not pastored all the sheep of my flock.
This text came to mind — John 15:11: “The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. The hired hand … sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and runs away — and the wolf snatches them and scatters them.”
Once I changed my mind, critics came at me with various attacks on my orthodoxy. They pounded me with verses about causing others to stumble or being guilty of misleading my students. Warnings of hell for me for leading them to hell became common.
These stung for a while, until I concluded that only God can sort all this out and that only God is the judge. I was as sure as I could be that I was now, and not earlier, pastoring all the sheep of my flock, including the LGBTQ+ ones.
6. I embarked on a fresh study of the “Big Six” passages that “everyone knows” establish absolute heterosexual normativity, a strict male-female gender binary, and a ban on any deviations. I concluded that it came down to two main passages (Gen. 1-2 and Romans 1) and one main theme — divine creation order.
Notice that to be positioned to do this fresh study of what are often called the “clobber passages,” I needed that entire body of earlier human contacts and experiences, as well as the dawning idea that the entire theological, biblical and cultural context of the argument needed to be reconsidered.
I am quite sure that just engaging with the narrow list of pre-approved clobber passages will never lead to a change of mind and heart. But a change of mind and heart achieved prior to revisiting those passages can lead to fresh insights.
7. After considerable wrestling, I concluded that the divine creation order theme derived from Genesis 1-2, and its possible intertextual echoes, reflects the majority pattern in human life, but also can and must be integrated with what we actually know of sexual and gender diversity in the concrete reality of all kinds of persons in our world.
A central text here is Genesis 2:18: “Then the Lord God said, ‘It is not good that the man should be alone. I will make him a suitable helper as his partner.’”
I concluded that the key teaching of Genesis 1-2 is not male-female complementarity but other norms: everyone being of immeasurable worth and dignity in the imago dei, intrinsic human relationality, our built-in interdependence as humans, the meaning of human creatureliness, the power of our God-given sexuality, the centrality of one-flesh bonding and kinship ties.
To reduce the beauty of Genesis 1-2 to male and female body parts or some imagined list of fixed maleness and femaleness criteria came to strike me as hopelessly crude and limited.
It also struck me like a thunderbolt that the LGBTQ+ issue was the ultimate current example of the old faith and science problem.
I then reasoned by analogy from other moments where the creation narratives were read woodenly or literally and created faith/science problems – earth as the center of the universe, a 6,000-year-old earth, a literal six-day-creation, the impossibility of accepting anything like the theory of evolution.
It dawned on me that this was a solvable problem in integrating our primal cosmology (creation narrative) with an honest appraisal of the world as we find it.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer also provided a clue in his book Ethics. He spoke about responding to people in their concreteness, their actuality and reality, rather than operating from an abstract paradigm about what we think all persons should be.
Instead of looking at real people and judging them based on their violation of our understanding of what they should be, we should respond to them in their reality and love them in and through the love of Christ.
Distinguished University Professor of Christian Ethics at Mercer University, Chair in Christian Social Ethics at Vrije Universiteit, and Senior Research Fellow at International Baptist Theological Study Centre. He is the author, co-author, editor or co-editor of 25 books and approximately 175 book chapters, journal articles and reviews.