However, over the past week or so I have detected a genuine willingness by the participants to try and move forward on this matter, particularly in light of the unfortunate situation where Ecclesia de Lange was discontinued as a minister of the MCSA on grounds of her having entered into a civil union.
I've also been mulling over in my mind how one could take matters forward, and a recent class discussion we had at SMMS that has been ticking over in my brain could possibly shed some light on where we need to go with the whole same-sex issue.
The topic for discussion was this: "Suppose you are sent as a minister to a Circuit where polygamy has been practiced for generations, and you find out that your Society Steward and two of your Local Preachers, while practicing otherwise exemplary Christian lifestyles, each have more than one spouse. You have been taught that leaders, according to 1 Timothy 3 vv 2 and 12, should be "the husband of but one wife (sic)". How do you respond?"
Possible responses discussed included:
- Require the person in the polygamous relationship to divorce all spouses (except for Spouse #1) in order to comply with the "one spouse" requirement.
- Suspend any person in polygamous relationships from all leadership positions, and possibly from the church as well.
Needless to say, 1 and 2 above would be the legalistic approach. For instance, suppose the person complies with 1 - what happens to the spouses who have now been cast out of the common household? What about any children born to such relationships? In the case of 2, the Church would (once again) stand accused of casting people away from the Church at a time when people are most in need of the Church's support.
A third possible response, however, was to look past the legalistic position and focus instead on the underlying relationship, considering aspects such as: Are all spouses afforded the dignity and respect that is their due? Is the sppropriate duty and responsibility of care being adhered to? Is the entire family "submitting themselves to one another out of reverence for Christ" (Ephesians 5:21)? Is the household a place of prayer, devotion, and service to Christ?
Our problem seems to be that if something doesn't comply with our own particular understanding of what is "right" and "normal", we condemn not only the "non-compliance" but also the persons who are "guilty" of such "non-compliance"
And in the case of same-sex relationships, while my mind goes fuzzy on the whole "nature vs. nurture" debate, conversations with people whom I believe to be sincere Christians who also happen to be gay have been heart-rending. One such person told me, with tears in his eyes, that he looks at my relationship with my wife and son and longs for the same. Not to mention the ridicule, the prejudice, and the hate that his sexual orientation has engendered towards him during most of his 40 years spent on earth. His conclusion was that no sane person would "choose" to live this way. Yet even though he lives an exemplary Christian life, showing nothing but love, kindness and friendship to all he meets, the Church chooses to reject him.
Yes, polygamous relationships can be abusive - but then so can monogamous relationships also be abusive. Likewise, same-sex relationships are probably as likely to be abusive as heterosexual ones do. By the same token, just as heterosexual relationships have the potential to exemplify Christ-like characteristics, surely polygamous and same-sex relationships have similar potential? And isn't THAT what we as a Church should be teaching and encouraging - relationships modelled on Christ?
In short, I believe that the debate around who is "right" and who is "wrong" concerning same-sex relationships is going to keep us going in circles. Both "sides" will continue to hold the moral high ground. Both will claim fidelity to Scripture. And while the debate rages, people such as Ecclesia will continue to be hurt and rejected by the Church. But focusing on relationships that exemplify characteristics of Christ-like living? THAT is something I'm sure that we can ALL agree on, and something that we as a Church should be striving towards.
As always, the journey continues...
(These thoughts have also been posted to the MCSA Ministers' Forum on Google)