The sermon I wish had been preached at #ERLC2014

A reflection by Lindsey

I have been a participant in the gay Christian conversation for 14 years. Sometimes, it’s a conversation. Sometimes, it’s a debate. And most of the time, it’s a lot of pontificating. I’ve been in environments where people have been actively seeking orientation change and healing from sexual brokenness. I’ve eaten many a meal with LGBT Christians waiting eagerly for the day when they would meet their same-sex spouses. And, hopefully unsurprisingly, I love talking with other people about celibacy and how LGBT people can show Christ to the world through living celibacy. Certain voices are well-known, and you can almost guarantee what a particular speaker will say. Yesterday, Albert Mohler addressed the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission 2014 Conference on The Gospel, Homosexuality, and the Future of Marriage. When I saw on Twitter that Mohler had opened up his Bible to Romans 1, something in me went off and I tweeted:

For an LGBT Evangelical Christian, these conversations are absolutely predictable. As a former Evangelical, I’m well aware of this. Yet, as I threw around the list of the Scriptures in my head… Romans 1, Genesis 3, Matthew 19, Genesis 1… some different thoughts took root in my heart. In following the same order of the Scriptures, I arrived at a very different place than “Don’t be gay.” Although I no longer consider myself an Evangelical with a capital E, I know far too many LGBT Christians screaming out to the Evangelical Church. This post is an offering to friends within Evangelical traditions and anyone else who finds it helpful. It’s deliberately written to have a preacher’s tone, and I hope you can imagine it being delivered by a sort of unknown, robust voice that carries some authority. Like any message delivered at a conference, it’s bound to miss the mark in a number of ways. In many ways, I’m trying to preach to my 22 year old self who desperately needed assurance that God had not abandoned me and had a plan for me in the part of the church I recognized.

Without further ado, I offer to you the sermon I wish had been preached at ERLC2014.

Hello, my name is Lindsey. I’d love a chance to get to know you more. I’ve been doing my best to follow Jesus in the company of friends since 1996. My faith journey began in high school and underwent significant growth in college. I met virtually all of my college friends through Intervarsity: I loved learning more about encountering Christ through intelligently reading the Scriptures and seeking to apply them to my life. I learned that following Christ is costly but that Christ alone offers the only form of life that could possibly be worth my everything. Now that I’ve introduced myself, let’s pray before we dive into God’s word.

Heavenly Father, you know each and every one of us. You created us, called us to be your own as sons and daughters in your eternal kingdom. You delight in us. You have fashioned us according to your image and likeness. Give us the confidence that we are, first and foremost, your children. Father, with the confidence that we are loved deeply and completely by you, we ask you: Search our hearts and know us. Try us and know our thoughts. See if there be any grievous ways in us, and lead us in the way everlasting. Amen.

We’re gathered here to talk about the Gospel, homosexuality, and the future of marriage. We come from many places, but we’re here because we’re deeply concerned about how we live faithful lives in Christ. I speak to you today with a firm conviction that each and every one of us here present longs for an authentic relationship with Christ. With that in mind, I’d like to acknowledge publicly the gay, lesbian, and bisexual Christians I know who have decided to attend this conference, as I know you braced yourselves for great hostility. I don’t know any transgender Christians in attendance tonight. If you are here, I’d love to meet you. I cannot fathom the depths of your courage. Tonight, I feel compelled to walk down a well-trodden road through the Scriptures. I do hope you’ll hold out for what I have to say because I hope to use incredibly painfully familiar passages to mark out a road far less travelled. For the sake of our LGBT brothers and sisters, I’m going to let you know that I’ll walk through Romans 1, Genesis 3, Matthew 19, and Genesis 1. I hope you’ll take a deep breath, and I invite you to trust me even though I’ve given you scant reason to hope that I’ll say something different from what you’ve already heard. God has set this message on my heart. And l implore your forgiveness for any ways I fall short.

Let us turn to Romans 1, beginning with verse 19:

What can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things.

Church, if we are going to have an honest conversation about the Gospel, homosexuality and the future of marriage, then we need to be frank: we have made an idol out of marriage. To be absolutely clear, God has imprinted His loving design on marriage. However, marriage is not the Gospel, especially when we consider how we present the Gospel to LGBTQ people both inside and outside the Church. How has it come to pass that Christians are better known for standing in a fried chicken line than we are for feeding the hungry? How has it come to pass that Christians are better known for resisting anti-bullying legislation in schools than we are for treating absolutely each and every person with the love of God? How has it come to pass that Christian parents are better known for kicking their LGBTQ children out on the streets than they are known for binding up the broken-hearted? How is it that 91% of young people between the ages of 16 and 29 who are outside of the church describe the church as anti-gay? These are our kids. And we are failing them. We are failing to show them the Gospel of Christ. We are failing to provide a broken world with hope of restoration and fullness, a promise that we Christians can only be fulfilled by uniting our lives wholly and completely to Christ.

We can find an important piece to this puzzle if we look at Genesis 3. Now, there’s a lot that can be said about Genesis 3 if we are talking about a broken world. Given our topic tonight, I’d like to zoom in on verse 16:

To the woman he [God] said, “I will surely multiply your pain in childbearing; in pain you shall bring forth children. Your desire shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you.

Now, let me first say something absolutely clear to the women gathered in the audience. This verse is not about you. This verse is not about your failings. This verse is not about your specific individual sins. This verse has been all too often wretched from its context and has been abused, completely and wholly and utterly abused by men seeking to demean women. We cannot have an honest conversation about the future of marriage if we deny the historic injustices of misogyny: and our churches have been anything but innocent when it comes to perpetuating the abuse of women.

At this point in Genesis 3, God delivers His judgment on the serpent, the woman, and the man. Some people will describe this passage as God cursing Creation. Yet we know that God, in infinite mercy and majesty, disciplines us as a father cares for his children. We also know that God wants all things to work together for our good and that He gives us good gifts. So here, in Genesis 3, we see that God has given the woman desire for her husband. The mysteries of attraction and marriage are both a blessing and a curse. No wonder it’s so easy for us to fail so miserably in areas of sexual morality!

Turning to Matthew 19, we read:

He [Jesus] answered, “Have you not read that he who created them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.”

The important thing to note here is that Jesus is talking about divorce. Jesus ups the ante even further when he says, “And I say to you: whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another, commits adultery.” Friends, brothers and sisters, if we’ve read the Gospels, we know that when Jesus says, “And I say to you” he is looking us right in the eye and telling us that we so easily miss the boat completely on the core issue. Marriage is a commitment that matters to Christ. It is profoundly important. Marriage reflects the world that God created, and marriage is good. Nonetheless, Christ knows that our fallenness we experience marriage as both a blessing and a curse, and he recognizes that sexual immorality has the power to destroy a marriage. That’s why we need to pray for those who are married in our midst: sin can enter in and destroy a covenantal bond. And that’s why we need the Cross because only on the Cross can Christ give Himself completely, fully, and freely to the church. Only through the Cross can Christ destroy the many forces of death that seek only to destroy God’s covenantal bond to His people.

The disciples know that Christ’s teaching on marriage is a challenging teaching. Let’s continue in Matthew 19:

The disciples said to him, “If such is the case of a man with his wife, it is better not to marry.” But he said to them, “Not everyone can receive this saying, but only those to whom it is given. For there are eunuchs who have been so from birth, and there are eunuchs who have been made eunuchs by men, and there are eunuchs who have made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. Let the one who is able to receive this receive it.”

And friends, here is where we really experience how we have made an idol of marriage in our society. We have made marriage an idol when we jettison its complement–celibacy. What is even worse is that we thrust this rejected way of life on gay and lesbian people expecting them to figure it out with no support when Protestants, by and large, have neglected the celibate vocation for hundreds of years. Could it be that God has whipped up such fury in the church about homosexuality so we can finally start to have honest conversations about the goodness of celibacy? Church, we need to be honest: do we even know what Christ was talking about when he said “there are eunuchs”? For my part, I have to wonder if there were people running around shouting at those on the margins of society, saying “Don’t call yourself a eunuch!” This passage from Christ is eerily reminiscent of how we talk about gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people in our cultural context. Moreover, we must be especially mindful that there are some people who do not feel like they can elect into a heterosexual marriage owing to any range of factors. How are we support these people who feel like celibacy is their only realistic option?

I don’t pretend to know the answer to that question, as I do not have the mind of God. Try as I might, I’m a sinner, I’m a fallible human being, and I know that the way of Christ is hard to find. I know that there is great promise in celibate vocations if for no other reasons than Christ was celibate, Paul was celibate, and so many heroes of faith in the modern world like Mother Teresa have been celibate. May God guide the journey, and may we have confidence to undertake this journey in faith.

And, I promised, I’d finish with Genesis 1.

Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. … So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. And God blessed them. … And God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good. And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day.

God created us in God’s own image. As we go out into the world, whether we are married or unmarried, LGBT or straight, weak or strong, let us remember that we are created in God’s image. May God grant us the strength to be image-bearers so that we reflect Christ in all we do and say.

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