In honour of Coming Out Day (October 11th), I wanted to address some aquaintances and friends of mine who fall under the category of "questioning." I have had many discussions with you and have often been asked something along the lines of "How do you reconcile your religious beliefs with your sexuality?" This is a great question and it also comes up when I "come out" as a Christian to others. I've blogged about this issue before but thought I would return to it again from a different angle and perhaps it will help you on your journey to discovering who you are.
In the Methodist tradition (Charles Wesley), the living core of Christian faith is weighed by passing four criterion. Imagine, if you will, a stool that an issue has to "sit" on. The first "leg" is Bible/Scripture. The second would be church tradition and the third is personal revelation. Reason/logic would be seen as the fourth "leg."
I have frequently heard Protestant ministers proclaim that the "Word of God" is the first and last leg they will stand on. I think is where the Protestant Reformation (Martin Luther) went too far. By sweeping away church tradition and personal revelation, this left the Bible tottering on its own. Don't get me wrong here. The Bible is a beautiful document with relevance for today. However because it was written by multiple authors with multiple viewpoints over a huge expanse of time, it is often contradictory and must be read in the context of the time it was written, not literally. This gave way to the Age of Reason (Enlightenment) that became secularism, discounting religion as a valid part of the human experience.
This is where church tradition comes into play. While reading Triumph: The Power and the Glory of the Catholic Church , I learned that in the Catholic educational tradition, philosophy, reason and theology were all held in equal standing. Issues such as the virgin birth, the trinity, the divinity of Christ and the resurrection were all debated and settled by the early Church leaders. Scientific discovery was actually encouraged before the Protestant Reformation. And I love that the Catholic denomination is comfortable with the unexplained. Pascal, the French mathematical stated "Man is a mystery that can't be solved by mathematical equation." Church tradition does change as well. For example, ideas on unclean food, blood transfusion, organ donation, divorce, interracial marriages, slavery and unbaptised babies have all been discussed and have slowly evolved.
After an issue passes the bars of Scripture (subject to interpretation), church tradition (ever evolving), we have my favorite, personal revelation. Similar to when we are trying to learn a new concept, for religion to have real meaning, it must be personally relevant to our lives. As there are multiple intelligences and differing learning styles, everyone has a unique personal relationship with the higher power. "Religion recognizes that often an unexpected, ordinary encounter or experience rescues us from despair and gives us what we otherwise could not see or do by ourselves." (Triumph, pg 106) Again from Pascal, "The heart has its reasons of which reason knows nothing." (I love that turn!) However this can't be the only "leg" you rely on either. I like this catty comment by Susan B. Anthony; "I distrust those people who know so well what God wants them to do, because I notice it always coincides with their own desires."
At the end of the journey, there lies reason/logic. These ideas and scientific discoveries have also evolved in conjunction with our understanding of the world around us. The earth is not the center of the universe nor is it flat. Dinosaurs walked the Earth even though the Bible does not explicitly mention God creating them. Genetically we have more similarities to monkeys than differences. Additionally the genetic differences between ourselves are miniscule, despite our outward appearances. Not all sex in nature is for the sake of procreation.
So what does this have to do with your sexuality? Well let's take an issue like women in the ministry for example. Does it pass the 1st bar? If you read the Bible in context women are certainly given the gift of ministry. If you read it literally, women should not. Does it pass the 2nd bar? In some denominations it does, in some it does not. What about your own personal experience? For example have you experienced God speaking to you through a woman? And finally what does reason/logic tell us? Is there evidence that shows women would be unable to perform such a task?
The exact same test can be done with the issues of being gay and Christian, same-sex unions or being a Christian leader in the church. I personally believe that this issue passes all four bars. Other issues, like snake handling, the death penalty, male circumcision and following false religious leaders (David Koresh, Sung Young Moon or Jim Jones) I believe fail. Others clearly disagree with me and I listen to their viewpoints as long as they give equal time to my ideas as well (9 out of 10 times this is not the case). This is called tolerance and understanding.
At the end of the day, it's like Ned Rorem (composer) said, "Anyone can be gay-it's no accomplishment- but only I can be me." Martina Navratilova stated, "The more people come out, the less it will be an issue. If we are ashamed of ourselves, how the hell can we expect the rest of the world not to be ashamed of us?" And finally from Ted Schmidt (played by Scott Lowell) in Queer As Folk, "Since God is love and God doesn't make mistakes, then you must be exactly the way He wants you to be. And that goes for every person, every planet, every mountain, every grain of sand, every song, every tear...and every faggot. We're all His, Emmett. He loves us all."
Happy (Belated) Coming Out Day!