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Progressive Christianity Isn’t About Homosexuality

This conversation doesn't hinge on homosexuality. In fact, it doesn't even have to do with sexuality at all...

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I just finished skimming an article written by a right-wing writer who was combatting progressive Christianity by pointing out its ‘moral and spiritual bankruptcy.’ A couple people shared this same article with me, likely because of my recent video ranting some of my frustrations about the incoming progressive wave of Christianity.

While I do think there is a lot to be concerned about with the influx of progressive Christianity, and much I disagree with, I think many people are having this conversation, quite frankly, wrong. The writer of the above article spent the entire span of his content combatting one thing: homosexuality. It seemed like there were dozens of little fires popping up about this one topic and he had to quickly extinguish them with his memorized scripture, as if homosexuality is the sole issue of progressivism. In reality, it’s merely a small room in a giant house of ideas.

I would argue that his article has much more to do with ‘why homosexuality is bad’ than actual progressive Christianity. For some reason, that’s become the first thing to come to mind whenever the topic is breached. It’s as if the sole reason Christians are progressing is to accommodate the LGBTQ+ community. In reality, what I’ve seen happen is the LGBTQ+ community has not only become the whipping boy for the conservative right, but also the golden child of the liberal left.

In other words, this group of people has been objectified by both sides for the sake of making arguments. Both sides’ arguments may be summed up rather simply, and redundantly repeating them won’t change anyone’s mind.

Left: “They are people with deep desires and we need to respect that. Imagine if you were as attracted to men as you are to women and someone told you it was sinful to be that way. We need to embrace and affirm them after years of hatred and exclusion. God doesn’t think they are gross and twisted, but beautiful.”

Right: “God has made the natural world to operate in a certain way: Male with female. To fight the natural order of things is to fight God, and therefore, sinful. (Yes, there is homosexuality in animals but there is also cannibalism of their young, so that’s not the best comparison…) To love someone is to not let them go on in their sin, but to do this lovingly and relationally.”

Years ago, C.S. Lewis said that if the devil can push a believer to either extreme—the Left or the Right—then he has succeeded, because from there he can push us to sin in that direction. 

Both sides (ideally) approach the subject with love and hope for the best in the world and in their community (including the LGBTQ+ community). For the rest of this article, I’m going to assume both sides have the best intentions in mind, even though in reality, either one can come off as pretty repugnant.

After all, if the only alternative to ‘progressive Christianity’ was that article above, I’m not so sure I’d want to stick with that side either.

The problem with hinging the entire conversation on what someone thinks about gay people is that it’s missing the forest for the trees. More accurately, it’s like missing the entire country of Brazil for a single tree.

Whenever a conversation turns an entire group of people into a point in an argument, we need to pause and look at the ideas being presented beneath the surface. In this case, the variance in opinions has much less to do with one’s attitude toward homosexual people and much more with their views of God, the Bible, theology, anthropology and philosophy. That’s exactly the reason I have never openly written about “Ethan’s views of homosexuality” because for one, why does that matter; and two, that’s not really the main issue, is it?

Our beliefs about certain categorical pockets are not necessarily indicative of what we think about that specific thing, but about something much larger going on behind it. As Rob Bell says, this is really about that. 

People ask me what I think about homosexuality either because they want affirmation in their ways, a conversational sparring partner, or an ally against gay people. They don’t ask me my views about Jesus or scripture, or theology, which is really where the conversation begins.

Over a decade ago, I watched the film Flight of the Phoenix in which a plane crashes in the middle of the desert and the crew must find their way back. The only part I remember is the captain saying that if their aim back toward civilization was off by just one degree, they would all be dead in the desert. That’s exactly the case here too. Both sides have misaimed their trajectory and missed the mark by miles.

The author above claimed to be addressing ‘progressive Christians,’ but simply popped out a bunch of verses from scripture which condemned homosexuality. Is that really the method we are employing to draw people to the beauty of Christ? Perhaps a better analogy is that of the tree and the forest. He set out to uproot the tree but ended up simply hacking away at a single leaf.

So what am I getting at here?

The conversation doesn’t hinge on homosexuality, or homosexual people. In fact, it doesn’t even have to do with sexuality at all: That’s merely the result of Christians stooping to do combat on the level of our over-sexualized culture.

The conversation needs to zoom out to the level of how we read the Bible. How we grow spiritually and how we know Jesus. We need to understand both postmodern thought and Gnosticism to have this conversation well. Because it has far less to do with sexuality than it does with thoughts, beliefs, hermeneutics, and conviction.

True believers won’t be distracted by debates about who’s allowed to do what with their bodies, or if that matters at all. I think true believers are more focused on their own sins and are actively humbled by the Gospel. The Gospel reminds conservative people that they are not the judge of other peoples’ actions, and it reminds liberal folks that there is a holy God who must deal justly with mankind.

When it comes to the wave of progressivism in the West, we need to zoom out from the myopic topic of sexuality and look at why and how we think the ways we do in the first place. This is far easier said than done, since it’s much easier to pick a side and drive our stake in the ground there than attempt to strike a healthy balance of—as Jesus had—grace and truth. 

I know I just opened the door to a gigantic can of worms, and have not really addressed that much yet, but plan to in the near future. For now, I have a couple thoughts to hopefully challenge you whether you consider yourself more conservative or liberal.

If you find yourself leaning to the right, ask yourself why you’re so quick to rail against this one specific group of people (or action). Is it because you, yourself don’t struggle with that? Is it easier for you to stand for the integrity of Scripture than it is to love people who are different from you? Does your sense of ‘rightness’ outweigh the love you show to those in the LGBTQ+ community? Do you see them as humans (do you know any gay people?) or as argument points? WWJD?

If you’re a left-leaner, ask yourself where you get your sense of truth. Take some time to honestly figure out what you root your truth in: Is it your own feelings, desires, or gut impulses, or do you have something larger than yourself to inform your ethical code? You argue for the rights of people wanting to do a myriad of actions, but do you draw the line somewhere? Is incest between a brother and sister permissible if they really love each other (Of course, they would adopt, just like a gay couple…), or is all love not really equal? Is it hard for you to concede that there may be a larger scale of right and wrong than what you agree with? WWJD?

As Christians, I don’t believe our job is to choose political, or even theological sides, but to love people, love God, and do our best to not screw up. We all sin in one direction or another, so let’s try to reorient ourselves toward Christ and not toward a winning argument.

May we be Christians who pray, love all people, and strive to read God’s Word accurately and carefully, recognizing that our thoughts inform our beliefs and our beliefs inform our actions. And may we never use humans as pawns in the chess games of our moral debates, regardless of which side we are on.

e

17 comments on “Progressive Christianity Isn’t About Homosexuality

  1. I agree with Lewis, the devil pushes people to the extreme on either side and they become wise in their own eyes.
    Thanks for taking this stand e!

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  2. Ray Sullivan

    Hey Ethan,

    I enjoyed reading your personal comments about Michael Brown’s article. Being a Christian myself (raised) and someone who is gay– I find myself often feeling like I am really in the middle (not a comfortable place to be). I often think and pray about the “Right” and the “Left” sided views on all of these debates (i.e. progressive Christianity, homosexuality/LGBTQ+, and loving God, people and myself). I think Jesus is pretty amazing but everything mostly lacks authenticity (e.g. majority of gay culture and church culture alike). Humanity is pretty messy.

    You might in enjoy: http://www.syrogers.com

    Take care,

    Ray

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  3. Lorelei Bennett

    Oh my god…. WHO cares!!!!!

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  4. You definitely have opened a can of worms and I appreciate your attempt at walking the fence. I agree with your ending, but I think the biggest issue lies in the idea of love. As a gay Christian, I have found that I am not loved well by the church. In fact, the church fails at loving gay (or SSA) Christians the majority of the time. However, if you posed the question to any major church, the majority of Christians would claim that they are loving. There is a deep gay between the perception and reality. I deeply desire for the church to have the humility to simply ask, “How can we love you well?”

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  5. Excellent article. The sheep part company with the goats based on who has a current, living convection with Jesus. After all Jesus is alive now, running the universe and orchestrating history. Either we are walking with Him or we are not. These days a doctrinal belief system does not define who knows Jesus and who does not.

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  6. The thing I don’t get about the conservative church is their way of getting to the Truth is taking positions and making arguments and parsing the Bible. But in that a lotta of what’s living about truth spiritually gets lost. We say Jesus IS the Truth, that truth is living. If truth’s a living person, why don’t we treat knowing it like we do with all people. We meet them and encounter and experience them, we don’t discuss them, not as the main way. Or with a lotta church, the only way. It just seems as if Christ as living reality gets missed or ignored too often in discussions of doctrine.

    The downside of that way of viewing truth when it comes to Jesus is that agreeing with a position becomes more important than loving Him who is Truth. The hypocrisy of a lotta conservative church is it matters a whole lot that gays agree with them, but even when they do agree, they are not embraced. It never seems enough to be in a conservative church as someone who loves Jesus, as someone whom God has made alive to see Him, that that’s enough. Progressive church takes it the other way, in the rush to embrace gays who love Jesus, they miss the reality by turning away from the Truth, and it ends up not helping. There is a living reality to these things that matters. If Christ was our focus, more than our positions, maybe Church would be one for real.

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  7. My wife and I talk about the challenge of my being in the church, married to a woman, yet also same sex attracted. It’s been very challenging—after deciding to share my life with people and not allow the church to ignore that I’m here, an actual person, and not an “issue”—because of the church’s acceptance of politicizing a group of people, using us as some kind of quick doctrinal metric, and not knowing how to simply love/care for those of us who remain despite that. I’m comforted by remembering that some of the 1st century churches were a hot mess. We are as well, and God will use His church despite our, sometimes, “foot in mouth” affliction.

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  9. Shoot, I had left a comment a week or so ago that was awaiting moderation and not sure what was all that offensive but apologies.

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    • No, I’m just lazy and rarely get around to approving them! 😉

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      • Dang, I was checking out your new email and checked back and it was missing and figured it was rejected. Tbh I didn’t remember what I’d posted but wanted to apologize cause sometimes I can say kinda dumb things. Thanks for going ahead and posting it anyway. ☺

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  10. I’ve read this through twice now and finally have a little time in the evening to comment, post-kiddo bedtime. I agree with everything you say – almost. I’ll admit I’m pretty far left in my beliefs, but I think the danger with letting people off the hook with a “there are bigger theological issues at stake” mindset is that real harm has been done to LGBTQ+ peoples by religious communities. Emotionally fragile teenagers have been cast out of their homes, individuals have been physically persecuted, and yes, people have died because intolerance towards non-heterosexuals. The fact that this defined and (relatively) large group of the population has been historically excluded and persecuted by Christianity means we have some making amends to do. So yes, I do feel I am being led by Jesus when I seek an open and affirming congregation. Because I believe he would welcome anyone to worship with him, and I want to follow that example.

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  12. Robert vantassel

    Hi Ethan, the paragraph where you wrote “ you, yourself don’t struggle with that”, it seems like you are making being gay, less than being straight. It’s only as complicated as you make it. Human sexuality is not so one sided. I have never once in my life been attracted to a girl as a young boy or a woman as a man. I am attracted to the same sex, period. I don’t feel my sexuality is a struggle. If it is for others in my community, it’s only because of how they are made to feel about themselves by other who feel the need to judge them for their differences. I have waited a long time to hear you talk about this, thanks. Rob

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    • Hey Rob, thanks for pointing that out! It’s good for me to learn about what kind of language to use and it can often slip my mind. Thanks!

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