Hanging In There with Conversations About LGBT People

Brian D. McLaren is an author, speaker, activist, and public theologian. He recently received a note from one of his readers breaking rank with him for his stand for LGBT people. “To use a supra concept of ‘Loving God and Loving Neighbor’ to excuse what is clearly sin in the Bible,” the comment read, “is to dilute the fundamental of obeying the Bible for its teaching authority in our lives in defining ethical behavior.” McLaren replied by describing the freedom to stay unified and stay in fellowship even when we disagree. “In fact, if we only ‘keep ranks’ with those with whom we agree, it pretty much guarantees we won’t be challenged to think new thoughts and grow into new areas.”

After describing this “generous orthodoxy,” McLaren shared how his own views changed about his LGBT neighbors.

This issue is not going to go away. A significant percentage of people are gay – I would guess around 6%. This percentage seems to be a remarkably consistent feature of every human culture and population, every denomination, every religion, including those who deny it exists among them. If each gay person has two parents, the issue affects 18% of the population. If each gay person has one sibling and one friend, we’re up to 30% who are directly affected by the issue.

It’s much easier to hold the line on the conservative position when nearly all gay people around you are closeted and pretending to be other than they are. Eventually for some, the pain of pretending will become greater than the pain of going public. Whenever a new son or daughter comes out of the closet, their friends and family will face a tough choice: will they “break ranks” with their family member or friend, or will they stay loyal to their family member or friend – which will require them to have others break ranks with them?

In my case, I inherited a theology that told me exactly what you said: homosexuality is a sin, so although we should not condemn (i.e. stone them), we must tell people to “go and sin no more.” Believe me, for many years as a pastor I tried to faithfully uphold this position, and sadly, I now feel that I unintentionally damaged many people in doing so. Thankfully, I had a long succession of friends who were gay. And then I had a long succession of parishioners come out to me. They endured my pronouncements. They listened and responded patiently as I brought up the famous six or seven Bible passages again and again. They didn’t break ranks with me and in fact showed amazing grace and patience to me when I was showing something much less to them.

Over time, I could not square their stories and experiences with the theology I had inherited. So I re-opened the issue, read a lot of books, re-studied the Scriptures, and eventually came to believe that just as the Western church had been wrong on slavery, wrong on colonialism, wrong on environmental plunder, wrong on subordinating women, wrong on segregation and apartheid (all of which it justified biblically) … we had been wrong on this issue. In this process, I did not reject the Bible. In fact, my love and reverence for the Bible increased when I became more aware of the hermeneutical assumptions on which many now-discredited traditional interpretations were based and defended. I was able to distinguish “what the Bible says” from “what this school of interpretation says the Bible says,” and that helped me in many ways.

So – many years before I learned I had members of my own close family who were gay – my view changed. As you can imagine, when this issue suddenly became a live issue in my own family, I was relieved that I was already in a place where I would not harm them as (I’m ashamed to say this) I had harmed some gay people (other people’s sons and daughters) earlier in my ministry.

The full post is available at Brian McLaren’s website.