"You never truly know someone until you have walked a mile in their shoes" - Anonymous
Yesterday at College we had a second session dealing with the link between spirituality and sexuality, in which we went through parts of a discussion document issued a couple of years back by DEWCOM (the Doctrine, Ethics, and Worship Committee of the Methodist Church of Southern Africa) dealing with our attitudes as Christians towards those of same-sex orientation.
It's a most difficult debate, made all the more confusing by the fact that there are sincere, well-researched positions across the entire spectrum of positions. Right now I have on my PC's hard drive 20 documents from MCSA sources (individual ministers, DEWCOM, Conference resolutions, etc.) as well as 37 documents from non-MCSA sources. This excludes the countless number of publications that I have read, of which I have not kept copies.
And to be honest, I'm more confused than ever.
This morning my heart was torn in two when I read a good friend's blog, as I do most mornings - in particular, his post entitled "Time to take my stand". And after reading this heart-wrenching post, I realised that underlying all the debates, positions, theology, "proof texts", discussion documents, arguments, and the like, one easily loses sight of the fact that there are real people, with real hurts, who are affected by all this.
Not having walked in his shoes (and those of his ex-wife), I cannot begin to imagine the anguish that they have gone through (and are probably still going through).
For me this whole thing is still a journey and a struggle, and today I need to be honest and admit that there are aspects of same-sex relationships that I cannot conceptualise, for no other reason than that I am a heterosexual male in a "conventional" marriage relationship with a heterosexual female. (Note that these biases are male-centric simply because I am a male. Nothing in this post should be construed as wishing to exclude females, but being of the male gender I have a limited understanding even about how females feel about heterosexual intimacy, let alone that of same-sex orientation.)
1. As a heterosexual male I cannot imagine myself in a physical relationship with another man. For as long as I can remember, I've been physically attracted to girls.
2. I find physical contact with other males difficult and awkward. I'll shake another man's hand, and even hug another man, but that's as far as it goes. I do not kiss my son (although I hug him plenty). Holding my son's hand is okay (he is 11), but I squirm when I hold an adult male's hand (even when we say "the grace" in church). The only time I as an adult male have ever kissed another adult male was the day I got my Matric results, and upon seeing that I had schieved university entrance, bounded down the school steps and planted a smacker on my best friend's cheek.
3. Seeing two men holding hands makes me feel extremely uncomfortable (even in cultural contexts where this act does not denote anything sexual). Two men kissing causes me to turn my head. The thought of more intimate physical contact between two men
4. I have two gay friends, with whom I have had lengthy and indepth discussions about issues of sexuality. I have no problem with normal social interaction, and have absolutely no fear that either one of them would be attracted to me in a sexual way. I have even been in social settings where the friend's partner has been present, and have interacted socially with the partner as well. However, I have never been present when they have shown any signs of physical affection towards one another, and would not know how it would affect me if such signs were to be shown (unlike the case with my heterosexual friends, especially the married ones, who hug and kiss in my presence with no effect on me whatsoever). Obviously I'm not talking sex here - that's something intimate and private, and quite frankly, I don't want to see ANY of my friends having sex, whether of the heterosexual or same-sex variety!
These inbuilt "biases" (for want of a better word) will undoubtedly be a powerful force in shaping whatever view I may have about same-sex relationships. The questions I have to ask myself, though - and this is part of the journey - are:
- Are these biases consistent with my understanding of what Scripture says concerning the relationship itself (and in particular, the physical expression thereof)?
- Do I actually base my feelings on Scripture, or on these biases?
- Do these biases block me in any way from ministering to those of same-sex orientation? Specifically, do I keep the commandment of Jesus to "love one another, just as I have loved you"? Do these biases prevent me from obeying Christ?
- Do these biases cause me to hurt, rather than love, those of same-sex orientation?
- Do I actually have any concept of the hurt and pain that many people of same-sex orientation experience because of such biases?
- Do these biases (in isolation) give me the right to condemn those who hold different views because they are not similarly biased? (I believe not).
- Do these biases contribute to my current position that I cannot see myself as a minister consenting to marry a same-sex couple?
An honest stand on this issue (and any other issue, for that matter) needs to be based on a sincere desire to honour God, in a Christian loving attitude, and after much prayer and reflection. To base a position on inherent biases is a cop-out, a short-cut, and one based on man's reasoning rather than God's Spirit.
Whatever my stand as a Christian and as a minister is (or may become), I confess and repent before Almighty God that my attitudes and biases may have caused hurt. That I have not loved as Jesus loved. That I have not cared as Jesus would have me care. That I too have been guilty of snide comments and off-colour jokes concerning those of same-sex orientation. That I have approached this issue intellectually and theologically, without regard to the real people concerned. And that I have not always listened to those who hold different views to mine.
Hanno and Alet, you remain in my prayers, as always.
The journey continues...
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