Ten-Foot Pole

What does John Barnts think about this Supreme Court ruling? That’s the question we should be asking ourselves. If we could only creep into that mind, explore the depths of that heart, we would have that North Star we need to unite the Church and stabilize this great country. I mean, he has a seminary degree and everything. He even plays piano.

[mad cheering, shouts for a speech, the feedback of a single microphone]

John hesitates, then picks up a ten-foot pole.

I have friends on all sides of this discussion. Good friends. I’m not going to say anything demeaning like “I love my gay friends,” because I don’t think of them as “gay friends.” These are my friends. And no one wants to insult a friend.

I’m sure that certain people are hoping I use this ten-foot pole to poke at the finger-pointing conservatives, or the Bible-ignoring gays, or at a boundary-overstepping government. What I really want to do is use this pole to poke “Play” on the DVD player and watch Empire Strikes Back. But I guess I’ll wait until after this post.

When I was half my age, I lost a good friend because I didn’t know how to communicate my thoughts and feelings about homosexuality. He told me that if we were going to continue being friends, he needed me to be happy that he was gay. That locked me up.

If he could have just let it be about preferences—I like women, you like men—we could have continued eating pizza, playing video games, and going to the movies. At least that’s what I thought. I didn’t realize that homosexuals think of their orientation as an identity, not a preference. If you reject homosexuality, you are rejecting them, body and soul.

If you say “love the sinner, hate the sin” to a thief, he will understand that you are talking about the potential for change, the hope of making an honest living. Say the same thing to a homosexual and you might as well be saying, “love the black man, hate the black skin.”

I was startled by what I perceived as a sudden change in my friend. One week he was talking about mundane things like cars and music, the next he was ranting about George Bush, Christian fundamentalism, how certain Bible verses have been misinterpreted, and on and on. I was so flustered by the change that I didn’t even try to imagine what he must have been feeling.

How could he tell his Christian, heterosexual father that he was gay? Would his father be embarrassed of him? Disgusted? Condemning? How could he tell the rest of his family? What about his friends? How could he worship a God that, unless the Scriptures were mistranslated or misinterpreted, had knit him together with a certain orientation that put him on a list with damnable sinners?

What would other believers say to him? God doesn’t make you gay. You chose that lifestyle. You want to shake your fist at God and stain his good earth with your filthy mind and flamboyant prancing. You just sit there and simmer in your sin until you finally sizzle in hell.

Aside from a lack of empathy on my part, I also didn’t like the thought of my friend having a crush on me, or any other human male. It made me squeamish. I think a lot of heterosexuals get squeamish when they see two men or women kissing or holding hands. They look at it, feel disgusted, and mistake their feelings for righteousness.

When I tried to explain my hesitations, drawing outlandish and hurtful analogies, hoping he could understand how my hardwiring makes the thought of homosexuality turn my stomach, he basically heard “you turn my stomach,” and that was it. We were done.

When I hear Christians rant against gays, I wonder if they’ve ever had a meaningful relationship with one, or really talked to one. I once had a Christian co-worker that was abused by her father and brothers when she was a child. Later I found out she had started a relationship with a woman. I really loved my friend. I was happy that she had found companionship. But a part of me hesitated. Was God not happy?

To find some sense of resolution, it was important for me to realize that sexuality is an invention. Let that sink in for a second. An invention. God is a spirit. “He” is not a he. Not in the natural sense. If God creates male and female, then claims to be a “he” and not an “it,” we need to ask ourselves why “he” is using that pronoun. We should study maleness and femaleness objectively, asking why sexuality was invented in the first place.

If you really believe in a Creator, you have to believe that there is a design and purpose to things, and none of us are independent of that design or purpose. We are locked into certain realities. If we don’t eat, we die. If we don’t like Empire Strikes Back, we’re mentally unstable. Cosmic law.

If you don’t believe in a Creator, you can skip the rest of this blog. I don’t expect you to resonate with the concepts, or be obligated to seriously consider them. Make your personal choices. Make your legislation. Live your life. Embrace the consequences.

However, if you do believe in a Creator, it is important to take a step back and consider the grand scheme. 

If God creates a male, gives him a female, and encourages them to make babies and share life together, one could assume that the male/female connection was always the plan. God actually uses the nuptial concept to illustrate his relationship with the world, calling himself “male” and certain humans “female.” He talks about his “marriage” and “divorce” and even about the “fruit” of the Spirit. The physical runs parallel to the spiritual, allowing the unseen to be seen.

Why does God support heterosexual marriage and childbearing while the earth is rampant with things like homosexuality, adultery, divorce, barrenness, miscarriages and abortion? The story arc of the Bible is very clear. God made things the way he wanted them. Sin screwed it up. God has been working through history to restore it, and will ultimately do it.

Here’s the snag: If we call homosexuality a sin, we are telling a homosexual that their identity is a sin. It’s not like lust, or adultery, or divorce. We need to be sensitive when we talk about sin in this context. It becomes personal. I don’t even like saying it.

At the same time we have to acknowledge that homosexuality was never part of the original plan. In the context of Scripture, homosexuality must be called a sin. It misses the mark. If we don’t call it what it is, we don’t have a true vision for the trajectory of God’s redemptive program. Our entire focus is on the “now” instead of the “not yet.”

So how is a Christian supposed to respond? Can we just ignore homosexuality under the banner of “love”? To each his own? Or should we pull out our righteous foam fingers and start pointing? I suspect that God has made certain allowances for this age, giving grace to all of us who are born off-line while moving us toward a reality that has become available through Christ, a resurrection life that works to restore our spirits now and bodies later.

I’m still conflicted about the best response. There is nothing easy about it. So many people are leading this discussion with their hearts, muddling the grand scheme with personal feelings and experiences. I encourage a little perspective, a little objectivity.

I believe that God is good and wise and truly does love all of his creation, not just the heterosexual parts. His posture is always toward redemption, toward the original plan. I want to embrace what he embraces, and reject what he rejects, even if that means shining a spotlight on the unwelcome parts of me. I want to take each moment as it comes, each relationship, trying to live with humility in an age of grace, looking forward to an age where the “now” meets the “not yet.”

13 thoughts on “Ten-Foot Pole

  1. Homosexuality is a sin, but some believe it is triggered by sexual abuse in early childhood. This gives homosexuals a victim status, deserving of compassion. Sadly, while many receive treatment and are able to overcome, others are doomed by PC and lack of knowledge to accept their condition as the way God made them. If they receive Christ, surely the Holy Spirit will work within them so they can see the truth. It is our job to see that they have a saving knowledge of Jesus.

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    • Thanks, Geezer. It is always hard to determine why a person has feelings toward a person of their own sex, and it’s even harder to label those feelings as “wrong.” How can attraction or a desire for companionship be considered wrong in one context, but beautiful and right (even righteous) in another?

      When I talk to my gay friends, I find that they are not really looking to be “healed” or “saved” from their feelings, just loved and accepted like everyone else. There is something right about that. Doesn’t Jesus look at a fallen humanity with the same love and acceptance?

      The only difference is that, according to the Biblical story, he met us in death that we might meet him in life. He came in love and compassion, but not “just as we are.” He came to remake us. To restore us to what he originally designed. He didn’t just come to embrace a world of sin so that sinners could feel warm and fuzzy and accepted.

      Parents don’t let their kids stew in their rebellion and ignorance. Why would God?

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  2. The definition for homosexuality is problematic in its dual scope; it includes both the desire and the behavior, so one can use the term and be talking about either. With regards to sin, the distinction is important. The desire, just like many of us having adolescent and/or adult proclivities to promiscuity because of the fallen nature of man, is not where sin occurs. When that desire becomes lust or physical action is where the sin occurs. I believe that is an important distinction.

    We don’t have to look very far at all to see the depravity of humanity and the brokenness of most all relationships.

    This post only seems to address homosexuality as sin and the Christian response to homosexuals . Of course, talking about the Constitutionality of the case and comparing the civil & women’s rights movements would have gotten lengthy.

    But what about tackling the question of whether homosexuals have entered into a covenant with each other that God ordains and recognizes?

    As one who believes all have been given prevenient grace–and believing that generational and societal sins have withered away grace–I still believe that when we hear the Gospel we have an instantaneous imparting of grace and know the truth of the Gospel in our hearts.

    I am not suggesting that we withhold grace from the hardened, unrepentant heart, but I also don’t believe that homosexuals who come in contact with the Gospel are incapable from knowing the truth, accepting it and being set free.

    Anyway, Black, gay, dumb, fat–whatever we find our identity in–is wrong. A former co-worker of mine (black and female) confided to me her struggles of whether to find her identity primarily in blackness or femaleness. I suggested to her that if her identity want first in Christ, any understanding of her race or gender would be incomplete and effectively meaningless.

    New post idea, John: autonomy as idolatry.

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    • Autonomy as idolatry. That is worth sitting with for a while.

      Thanks for your thoughts, Stephen, especially regarding the issue of identity. Finding our identity in Christ is critical and unifying. And letting the Spirit do all the shaping and sorting and convicting that needs to be done to get humanity on his track.

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  3. As usual, God has allowed this to happen, just as He has allowed nations to rise and fall. The question might be as to what we are to learn from this. Where is God going with this? Has God given the gays up to vile passions? (Romans 1:24-32) Paul plows this rocky ground all the way through Romans. Perhaps this is a good time to review this complicated book of the Bible.

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    • I’m working through it now with a small group at church, having recently translated through it on my own. Much ground to cover, but so rich and, you’re right, so relevant to this post.

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  4. You don’t know me, John, but I found your blog when my roommate, Wendy, commented on the post on Facebook. I really appreciate your tone that comes through in this post – that you realized the way you approached your friend ended up damaging the relationship despite your best intentions and attempts to explain your position. It’s clear this is an issue you’re wrestling with – since this post does not read at all like a period at the end of a declarative sentence – and I really appreciate your honesty here, since it’s true that many of us like to avoid confrontation on such divisive and polarizing issues.

    I’d love to hear your thoughts on the other readings of the Creation stories, though, since I think they open up this conversation even more. While I agree with you that homosexuality is an identity, I’d also say so is heterosexuality (and bi, queer, etc.).* When you state sexuality is invented, I agree – if by that you mean as an identity made possible only in the modern era, where things like “selves” and “autonomy” become recognizable concepts.** But the Deity didn’t create those identities (since they’re a recent development in human history) -even if there have been instances of sexual activity other than between male and female for as long as history has been recorded. It’s important to keep this distinction in mind between behaviors/practices/activities on the one hand, and identities on the other, especially when we’re trying to understand our sacred text.

    I’d also like to complicate the discussion here around not just sexuality, but gender. You’re right that God is spirit – neither male nor female. Those pronouns _do_ carry meaning, though. The question is whether that meaning was intended by the Divine or whether it was the result of human bias (given the patriarchal culture of the ancient Hebrews, the early church, etc., etc.). For instance, there is no gender neutral in Hebrew grammar, which means every word is either masculine or feminine (regardless of whether the signified is actually male or female, or even has a sex at all). Additionally, throughout the Hebrew scriptures, there are examples of feminine images of God. For instance, the words for Spirit/Breath and Presence of the Deity are feminine, as is Sophia in the wisdom literature. “El Shaddai” can be translated “Many-breasted one.” If both male and female are created in the image of the Deity, and there are multiple instances of using female imagery for the Deity, isn’t it possible that the Deity wouldn’t be gendered at all, but that the seeming masculine gender was added in by the humans who wrote the text? I guess the answer to that depends on one’s position vis à vis inerrancy and infallibility.

    One of my favorite Hebrew Bible scholars is Phyllis Trible, who argued in _God and the Rhetoric of Sexuality_ that when the Deity created _ha-adam_, “_ha-adam_” should be translated as “earth person,” sex undifferentiated. _Ha-adam_ becomes _is_ (“man”) and _issa_ (woman) when the Deity sees that _ha-adam_ needed a suitable companion. So God didn’t create a male; God created a person. Then God saw that the person needed a like-minded creature to keep it company. So God made another one, sexually differentiating them. And because God is awesome, he created sexuality – though this is certainly not the be-all, end-all of relationships.*** What God _didn’t_ do was create a male and _give_ him a female, although one might think that based on how women have been (and still are, in some instances) exchanged between fathers of the bride and husbands to be.

    Of course, all of this could still be argued to support the idea that homosexuality is not God’s intended, if one believes child-bearing is the primary reason for marriage, for instance. But it’s at least tricky to try to maneuver around the many, many biblical instances of marriage (and the way it was defined for much of human history) that were _not_ explicitly condemned, but that also don’t line up with what might be acceptable today by most Christian standards. Not to mention the fact that there are some persuasive arguments for not interpreting the Genesis creation stories literally.****

    What does seem clear, though, at least to me, is that there are multiple interpretations of sacred text(s) both possible and plausible. I think the Jewish rabbinic tradition (and the Islamic jurisprudential tradition) gets this one much better than mainstream Christianity has – that there can be disagreement and difference in interpreting the sacred text among genuine believers, and that they can (and must) live in tension.***** The sacred text is beautiful and profound – resistant toward attempts to explain away its ruptures and mysteries. I think far too often we think we’re performing exegesis, and it turns out to be eisegesis.

    I agree with the commenter above who argued that, as Christians, our identities are to be in Christ. Problem is, we have to define what that means. The older I’ve gotten, the more I’ve realized that the evangelical tradition in which I was raised is growing toward identities rooted in a prescribed set of rules for understanding complex doctrines and practices, not in Christ. Is to have one’s identity in Christ to believe in one particular way of understanding the Genesis story? Or is it to have faith in the mystery of grace that comes from the work of Christ?

    I’m still wrestling with all this, too. Stumbling toward Truth, as I like to say. Thanks for making me think more deeply about these things.

    ~Kirsten

    *E.g., Jonathan Katz, _The Invention of Heterosexuality_, University of Chicago Press, 2005
    **I’m happy to expound on this, if you’d like.
    ***A discussion can and should be had, of course, about (Christian) sexual ethics.
    ****See: scientific theories of evolution, similar ancient Mesopotamian myths of creation, etc.
    *****I think this is more present among the Eastern patristics, however, than in the Western Christian tradition.

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    • Dang, Kirsten! Is this how you always introduce yourself to new people, footnotes and all? Awesome. I enjoyed reading that.

      I can tell you up front that my relationship with “the Deity” is very real and personal, and is not bound to traditions, rituals or texts, though I obviously gain a great deal from research and expressions of faith. For me, God is not something to piece together from ancient cultural expressions or traditions. God is transcendent, and very much alive and active in my life. I know that it may sound subjective or unscholarly to put it like that, but if I could sit with you for a couple hours and tell stories, you’d understand why I have to think of God off the page.

      I teach my college students about the Enuma Elish and the Gilgamesh Epic, challenging them to grapple with the similarities found in the Primeval Prologue. The poetry of Genesis 1 (chiastic structure, parallelism, etc.) makes the Creation problematic, and the fable-like quality of Eden is a challenge as well. So how can I put any stock in it?

      Jesus.

      As one of my professors likes to say, “Jesus cannot be reasonably ignored.” His historicity is hard to deny, and his teachings are useful in shining a light back onto the ancient texts. Assuming, of course, that we believe his claims to be sent from Yahweh to redeem creation.

      If he came to save something, it must have been lost. Maybe the Fall account is convoluted with fable-like qualities, but something happened that required a fix. He talked about “the glory I shared with you before the world was made.” That suggests a Creation, though the poetic account of Genesis may not give us much to go on from a scientific perspective.

      As for sexuality, yes, Jesus came as a human male, called himself a “son,” called Yahweh his “father,” and chose twelve men to be his disciples. Does this make God male? Does it make Christianity a chauvinist movement? I don’t think so. As we both agree, (and as Jesus stated) God is spirit. And he expresses himself in ways that our culture would label as both “masculine” and “feminine.” That’s why I said sexuality is an invention. From the lens of intelligent design, everything is an invention.

      Hey, if we want to get testy about sexuality, Paul says that the Church is the bride of Christ. Does that mean Jesus thinks I’m a WOMAN?! [stomps away to watch Predator with a beer]

      Thanks for your thoughts. And I definitely want to check out that Katz book.

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  5. I appreciate the tone of your writing as well. I know you have a compassionate heart and a love for all people. I think there is a big picture issue here… in the basis of what the Bible refers to as a depraved mind (Romans 1:24-32). I know we’re talking about individuals in the present culture, so to use a primarily heterosexual example…

    “Love is love.” We hear it now over and over. In this nation and in our world we have redefined what is human so that when the product of our “love” is unwanted or inconvenient, it is easy to dispose of (Roe vs. Wade, 1973). Now, we have the right to choose… to KILL, and we have had it for some time. I know this is a sensitive issue, but it is widely accepted by many christian groups as well as our nation, and it comes about by a simple redefinition of humanity.

    With where we are, where do we go next as a nation? There is already a building platform, from the same minority/majority affecting our current state of affairs, to reduce the age of consent laws to 14. 14!!!!! Also, to classify circumcision as child abuse. It seems almost ridiculous, but how far away are we, really?!?! It seems very easy to sway the minds and hearts of people to accept a myriad of behaviors.
    I know I am now venting, but this is not an issue of individuals, but of a nation which is speaking clearly about where it stands in relation to one another and its Creator, or lack thereof.

    Next word study, “God gave them up to…”. What does that mean in the context of a loving God?

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  6. So amazed at the discussion here. Glad I’m not the only one who wrestles with this. On the one hand, I’m pretty sure God isn’t on board with the gay/lesbian agenda. On the other hand, I am equally sure He’s not impressed with fat, divorced, self-righteous ‘christians’ spewing hateful words at gays and lesbians. I’ve wandered through fundamentalism-land, sojourned there quite a while in fact, but have in recent years meandered my way back to my Catholic roots. At this point in my life I am living in a very small world comprised mainly of my husband, my kids and grandkids, so I can’t say I have any gay friends. I don’t really have any friends for that matter, bu’ ‘cept I talk to God a lot.
    Reading this has prompted me to post about something I’ve wrestled with for quite some time. A relationship in my past I’ve been sorting out.
    https://annglastonbury.wordpress.com/2015/07/04/a-puzzlement/

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