The ONE THING Missing from the Same-Sex Marriage Conversation

Like a lot of people, since the SCOTUS ruling came down last Thursday, I have read post after post about same-sex marriage.  On my Facebook page, I have people on both sides of the issue, but, as a pastor, the majority of my friends are people within the North American church.  As I have watched the Church respond to the supreme court ruling, there is one thing that no one in the Church seems to be talking about.  The only reason I am writing this blog is because I believe this one thing has been left out of the conversation.  The Lord knows that none of us need to read another blog right now.

The one thing I continually see left out of conversations about same sex marriage is the Christian virtue of HUMILITY…

I see lots of posts drawing lines in the sand.  I see lots of posts defending our stance with the bible.  I see lots of posts using fear mongering to scare the American public about the ramifications of this decision.  I don’t see a lot of posts drenched in humility.  I think, especially in this conversation, the church could use a little humility.

The first reason we could stand to be humble is that WE HAVE BEEN WRONG BEFORE.

Remember Galileo and Copernicus?  The church argued on the authority of the bible that the EARTH WAS FLAT!  Let that sink in for a moment.  I don’t know any Christians in the North American church today that would argue such a thing.  But books were banned, and the word heretic was thrown around because people began believing the earth was round, and revolved around the sun.

And of course, we all know the church’s sordid history with slavery.  The bible was used to support slavery for many years.  Scriptures were quoted and proof texted.  People who talked about racial equality were persecuted because everyone “knew” the bible endorsed slavery.  Today, no reasonable theologian would conclude that slavery is endorsed by the bible.

Perhaps we should let history teach us that these issues aren’t always as cut and dried as the church would like to make them.  Maybe we should approach such issues with humility, knowing we’ve been wrong before.

The second reason it would seem to me that humility is in order in the discussion of same sex marriage is that EVEN IN SCRIPTURE, THE UNDERSTANDING OF A “BIBLICAL MARRIAGE” SEEMS TO HAVE CHANGED.

The truth is that we have to be willing to deal with memes like this one:biblemarriage

I saw another meme that said that the bible is not trail mix, you don’t just get to pick out the parts you like.  But if we are honest, we all do a little picking and choosing.  This meme is obviously generated to garner a response, but there is some truth in it.  We have to be willing to wrestle with the fact that polygamy was an acceptable practice throughout much of the Old Testament. We have to read all of Leviticus if we are going to use the part about homosexuality being a sin.  We all understand that there are a lot of places where we pick and choose what we want to adhere to in the book of Leviticus.

And let’s take an even more modern example, divorce.  The church, even in the last century, has lightened its stance on divorce and the remarriage of divorced people EVEN THOUGH Jesus himself seems to speak pretty plainly about the issue in the Sermon on the Mount. (Matt 5:31-32)  We seem to have changed our stance on divorce in spite of Jesus’ words. I don’t know many Christians that would even debate whether a divorced person can remarry without committing adultery.

I believe we should be a little more humble when we talk about the bible’s definition of traditional marriage.

By this point, you may be wondering where I stand on the issue of marriage.  First of all, I belong to a denomination (Church of the Nazarene) that believes that marriage is defined as one man and one woman.  Our denominational leaders released a statement that you can read here.

When I was ordained, I promised to return my credentials to my church if my beliefs were ever out of harmony with our denominational beliefs.  I have not done so.

I believe, and have gone on record at my church as saying, that the best definition of marriage is between one man and one woman.  For me, you can throw out the proof texts that everyone uses to say “the bible says” homosexuality is wrong.  I’m not really one for proof texting anyway.  For me, it comes back to the image of God.

Genesis 1:27

So God created mankind in his own image,
    in the image of God he created them;
    male and female he created them.

For me, the best representation of God isn’t a man, although we have often made God into a man.  And for me, the best representation of God isn’t a woman, although we probably haven’t emphasized God’s feminine qualities enough.

For me, the best representation of God is a man and a woman coming together, both the male and female qualities of God, in a monogamous marital union.  I believe that is why Jesus says:

Haven’t you read,” he replied, “that at the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female,’ and said, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh’?  So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.” 

So that is what I believe…

But I also hold onto my belief with humility.  I am trying to be willing to enter into conversations with those who believe that same-sex marriage is perfectly compatible with Christianity because I know that the church has been wrong before.  For the past year and a half, I have prayed this prayer: “Holy Spirit, don’t let us miss on this issue like we did slavery and the earth being flat.  Guide your church.”  And I believe the Spirit will.

We Wesleyans have a great mentor in John Wesley.  His bust sits on my desk in my office.  Wesley was convinced that the bible is NEVER wrong, but that our interpretations of scripture can be.  He used other factors like tradition, reason, and experience to help shape his understanding of scripture.  Most likely, it is these elements that helped the church see that the earth was indeed round, that slavery is actually an abomination in God’s eyes, and that polygamy may sound great in theory but doesn’t work in practice! (read the stories of Rachel and Leah)

[If you are interesting in a good framework for a Wesleyan approach to these conversations please see Dr. Tim Crutcher’s blog]

I am convinced that, as we approach scripture with humility, God will lead the Church again.  It seems to me that in the past week, we have been so busy fighting for our “rights” (which seems antithetical to Jesus on the cross) that we forgot to exhibit the Christian virtue of humility.  May God give us the grace to do so in the coming days.

Just a thought,



Pura Vida- Lessons from Costa Rica

I got back from Costa Rica a week ago.  I attended a conference called Third Wave for young leaders in the church of the Nazarene from all over the globe.  (Not sure I fall in the “young leader” catagory so much anymore)  The trip was amazing…

First of all, it was in COSTA RICA!  It is one of the most beautiful places I have visited on the earth.  The land was teeming with life.  I saw more plant species than I thought possible.  We ate with monkeys at our hotel.  I got to hold a toucan and visit gorgeous waterfalls.  It was amazing.

The country of Costa Rica has a slogan- Pura Vida!  It means pure life.  People will walk up to you in a public place and greet you with “Pura Vida!”

And yet, in Costa Rica, people are looking for that “pure life” in lots of ways.  Some of them look a lot more like bondage and slavery than pure life.

One of the things that God did for me was to open my eyes to how narcissistic I have become.  And I don’t think I am alone.  We Americans are a narcissistic lot.  We walk into a foreign country expecting other people to know English, but we haven’t taken the time to brush up on their native language a bit.  We expect a certain level of comfort, or we get frustrated.  We literally seem to believe that the center of the universe is the good ole USA.

Some of my team members and I noticed that the Europeans at the conference tended to speak 2 or 3 languages. We felt lazy.  Many of the Spanish speakers spoke English as well.  I only know how to speak English and Texan…

My friend Blair was telling me that one of his professors used to have a saying for the teams he sent out to do mission work.  It was something along the lines of “You have no rights.”  We joked about that, but God began to stir my heart as I thought about that saying.

See, I’m not sure that saying should be isolated to “mission” work.  After all, aren’t we ALWAYS on mission?  Shouldn’t we always be “without rights?”

The the question began to swirl around in my head.  “Did Jesus REALLY MEAN IT when he said that the person who loses his life will find it?”

In this new year, I have been praying the prayer of Saint Francis every day at noon.  It ends like this:

“For it is in giving that we receive; it is in pardoning that we are pardoned; and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.”

Do I believe this?  Do WE believe this?  To top it off, we prayed the Wesley Covenant Prayer at the Conference.  Take a moment to read this:

I am no longer my own, but yours.Put me to what you will, rank me with whom you will; put me to doing, put me to suffering; let me be employed for you, or laid aside for you, exalted for you, or brought low for you; let me be full, let me be empty, let me have all things, let me have nothing: I freely and wholeheartedly yield all things to your pleasure and disposal. And now, glorious and blessed God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, you are mine and I am yours. So be it. And the covenant now made on earth, let it be ratified in heaven. Amen.

This whole prayer is a prayer of death.  Dying to our wishes, and surrendering to Christ’s wishes.  We live in a country where people choose their church based on their personal preference.  We live in a country where we organize our calendars around our personal agendas.  We live in a country where we spend hours seeing how many likes we had on Instagram or Facebook.  And yet, we wonder why we aren’t experiencing “pura vida.”

Maybe “pure life” comes through a “pure death”…

Maybe Jesus meant it when he said that whoever loses his life will find it…

I’m trying to live into this, and it is hard.  I’m trying to die to my opinion of how bad the ref’s call was at my son’s basketball game.  I’m trying to be thankful for my daily bread, and die to my preference of restaurant choice.  I’m trying to die to my own ambitions as a pastor, and be thankful for the people God has called me to serve.  I’m trying to learn to die, but I have to tell you that dying is hard.  There is this thing inside me that is always quick to want MY way, and MY rights, and MY timing.

But I am finding that there is something about dying that brings new life in me.  And in the place of this life that I have constructed, a new life is emerging…

And it is not just any life, it is “Pura Vida!”

Just a thought,