Since this is pride month and since many Christian churches continue to wrestle with the full inclusion of LGBTQ people (including the denomination I’m currently affiliated with), maybe it’s worth sharing how I came to arrive at an “open and affirming” stance. Though I’m probably an atypical case in a lot of ways.
I don’t remember ever thinking there was anything particularly wrong with same-sex relationships. I spent my teenage years and early adulthood as an atheist or agnostic (depending on the week), so I had no conscious attachment to the traditional Christian teaching on homosexuality. Plus, I had gay and bi friends in high school and college (issues of gender identity weren’t really on my radar at the time, I must say) and I generally moved in artsy, bookish “alternative” circles that were pretty accepting of gay people.
When I returned to Christianity in my 20s, however, I wasn’t entirely sure how to reconcile this accepting stance with my new faith. In my mind, the Christians who most vocally embraced same-sex relationships were ultra-liberals of the Bishop Spong mold who seemed to water down the truth-claims of Christianity beyond recognition. The faith I had embraced was of a more traditional bent, and I wasn’t sure if it could accommodate a revisionist stance on sexuality. What if the ultra-conservatives and ultra-liberals were both right that orthodox Christianity and conservative sexual ethics were a package deal?
Over time I was introduced to other voices who affirmed same-sex relationships and more-or-less traditional views of, say, the Incarnation and the Trinity (to name a few: Marilyn McCord Adams, Keith Ward, Gareth Moore, Rowan Williams, Eugene Rogers and James Alison, among many others). Just as important, I belonged to LGBTQ-affirming congregations and worshiped, studied and served with LGBTQ Christians whose lives unmistakably exhibited the fruits of the Spirit. These weren’t secular humanists in flimsy religious clothing, but devout Christians who saw no tension between loving Jesus and being in a committed same-sex relationship or having a non-traditional gender identity.
At this point I’m comfortable with what I’ve learned to call “open orthodoxy”: a commitment to the gospel of God’s universal love revealed in Jesus alongside an openness to changing our understanding of the world as we acquire knowledge from multiple sources. Science, philosophy, personal experience, social movements and other religious traditions can all add to our understanding of God’s creation and what it means to live a life of love and service.
I’m not trying to pat myself on the back for my broad-mindedness. These were largely intellectual hang-ups for me and I had very little skin in the game. I’m lucky there were LGBTQ Christians in my life who patiently pointed me to resources for a better understanding and who also lived out their own faith so authentically. (Some of them were regular commenters on this blog back in the day.) My experience has taught me that LGBTQ-affirming Christianity isn’t some counterfeit or watered-down version of the faith. I’ve come to view the affirming stance as not just permitted but mandated by an authentic understanding of the gospel of Jesus.