FAITH & SEXUALITY – reaching a personal perspective
The words ‘faith’ and ‘sexuality’ normally provoke strong reactions from people. Many have quite rigid and opinionated views on both areas, which make it difficult for us to be objective. In a Christian discussion, we need to remember that God asks us both to seek his will and to understand each other. This is difficult if we hold onto inflexible views based on personal opinions, as might be true for all of us at times.
‘Faith’ in its broadest sense is a belief system and a set of values to live by. Psychologists tell us that faith in something is very important for our well-being, whether it is a spiritual faith or based on something else such as, humanism and/or the natural world. Without faith in something we lack an anchor, a purpose and something to believe in and hope for. Here I am focusing on the Christian Faith, which is my own faith.
‘Sexuality’ has different meanings in our language. The recent church debate has been about a person’s sexual preferences and that is what this article is focused on. However, it is important to note that God is not anti-sex. God created humans as sexual beings and tells us all he created is good. The issue for debate is not sex itself, it is about the conduct and expression of our sexuality.
There is a very wide range of views on human sexuality both across and within Christian denominations. The spectrum goes from churches which will readily marry gay and lesbian couples, to those which would make any expression of ‘LGBT+’ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender etc.) love a criminal offence. Equally there is a very wide range of views from recognized Christian Theologians. Clearly the largest Christian denominations in the UK, the Anglicans and Roman Catholics, are struggling to agree a common and settled position on this issue, as they have consistently struggled with matters of minority recognition and equality in recent centuries (for example, abolition of slavery, racial inequality, women’s rights). History tells that they eventually get to a settled and good place.
In deciding our personal approach to sexuality, fortunately the church is not the only guide we have to God’s Will. Our denominations are human institutions run by fallible people, so we should also look to: God’s Word in the Bible, the life of Christ, our experiences of churches in the real world and our own reasoning.
There are obviously a wide range of views on this subject, but, I would like to share with you where I have reached in deciding my own view. For me the most important determinants are what the Bible says and the example Christ shows us.
It is extremely difficult to be entirely objective when we read the Bible – it is so easy to look for verses or passages that in isolation seem to support our pre-conceived views! Thus I have tried to read various commentaries and listen to people with a wide range of views over a long period of time.
My lasting observation is how little the Bible actually says about alternative sexualities! Those that use the Bible as a weapon against LGBT+ people do this on the basis of only about 6 verses taken from the whole Bible! These handfuls of verses are open to variety of interpretations and also often taken out of biblical and historical context. It seems to me that matters of fundamental human ethics run deeply, clearly and very consistently throughout the Bible. When looking at everything that the Bible has to say about many areas of holiness & conduct, it seems this subject is not as important as other topics, if at all.
On the other hand, there are those who take a positive stance in their use of scripture in support of LGBT+ life styles. They cite the examples of several key biblical relationships which they believe are LGBT+ in nature and if so, would affirm God’s blessing to these relationships. Examples are David and Jonathan, Ruth and Naomi, the Centurion and his Slave and some even talk about Jesus and ‘the disciple he loved’. Personally, I am not there yet in being certain these examples involved alternative sexualities, but, I do think it is possible.
As mentioned above, another guide to God’s approach to any human dilemma is the life and actions of Christ. There is no mention in the Bible of Christ talking about alternative sexualities. Again I believe Christ was very clear and consistent about many matters of holiness and conduct, so no mention of this particular subject to me reinforces the view that it was not the fundamental issue that some have made it into.
I also take great comfort from Jesus’s counter-cultural approach to those excluded and at the margins of society/the church. Jesus consistently went out of his way to meet such people where they were and to show them love and respect, in contrast to society and the religious rulers of the time. This is not to say he overlooked sin where it was present but he looked passed it to the needy soul inside – the woman caught in adultery is a great example – he gave her time, showed her respect, yet also said ‘go sin no more’.
Some of you will no doubt be thinking that, being silent on a subject does not necessarily mean God condones it, for example, child abuse, weapons of mass destruction, pollution. However, I would argue that all of these areas are clearly contrary to many of God’s laws, such as ‘love thy neighbour’ just to start with! I do not see how a consenting, committed, faithful and loving relationship between adults of alternative sexuality, can be seen in this way. If this were indeed a major issue, as with all other matters that are fundamental to human identity and relations, I believe the Bible and Jesus would be very clear about it.
While the church leaders wrestle with human sexuality, and society with other areas of equality, I am very grateful to St Mary’s congregation and ministers, past and present, for making our church a place where all are welcome and equally valued in the life of the church.