The language of war

For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” But if you bite and devour one another, watch out that you are not consumed by one another.

But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law. Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.

If we live by the Spirit, let us also keep in step with the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, provoking one another, envying one another.

Galatians 5:13-26

I’ve had to learn an awful lot about self-control over the last few years. The control necessary to remain in good and faithful fellowship with the believers I gather with every Sunday. The control necessary to stop myself imploding with anger and sorrow as I hear preachers around the globe snipe at my lifestyle. And, of course, the control necessary to live within the LGBT community, but remain faithful to Christian values.

Until you’re one of the minority, you don’t really learn self-control. Before that, I did of course have plenty to say about Paul’s list of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Part of any Christian walk is learning how to be critically self-evaluative. Discovering your strengths and your weaknesses enables you to walk down the narrow path, and to move away from those ‘works of the flesh’.

Regularly I hear – either passively from the pulpit or in passing conversation – comments about homosexuality and how it is offensive to God. I’ve had to learn very carefully how to respond to this. To know when is the right time to respond, and how to do so. The thing is, much like the major debates like abortion and divorce, you can’t really encapsulate the full scope of the homosexuality debate in one conversation or one sermon.

To do so would to be able to skilfully explore a whole series of issues including:

  • Sociological patriarchy
  • Psychological study of masculinity, including the ‘demasculinisation’ of men
  • Feminism and the difference between gender equality and gender superiority
  • Historical attitudes to homosexual experience, especially in Greece and Rome
  • Other Western histories of sexuality
  • Monogamy in the church as a whole
  • The concept of childbearing homosexuals
  • Biblical rhetoric around homosexuality, and the complexities of exegesis and mistranslation
  • Political influences preventing accurate translation
  • Traditional viewpoints and worldviews ingrained psychologically and influencing interpretation of scripture
  • The purposes of marriage, including their presence in Heaven (none), the reasons for Adam having a companion in Eve, and procreation
  • And plenty more.

Indeed, Matthew Vines’ famed sermon only touches on some of these, and it is still a rigorous 67 minutes of intense biblical analysis.

Mark Driscoll’s resignation this week has pulled his past work back in to focus. Let’s honour him for a moment: whatever you think of Pastor Mark’s teachings, he has been a major influence in the growth of Christianity especially in Seattle. He is a beloved child of God, and nobody can separate him from God’s love, nor can anyone take away his salvation. I really do believe that I will see him when this world passes away, and that we will be spending eternity together with God.

Driscoll is most famous for his strong words and wildly reactionary attitudes towards certain groups, including homosexuals. He is perhaps best known for being extremely firm and almost incendiary in how he preaches, tweets and writes. Ultimately, this has led to a downfall.

I’m not interested in exploring anyone’s fall from grace. As far as most of my church is concerned, I, too, have fallen from grace since I came out.

This rhetoric is everywhere. Whether it’s the street preacher decrying the acts of ISIS and homosexuals (as if we’re the same!), whether it’s the pastor saying gay marriage has cheapened his own, whether it’s a friend telling another they are upset by the sinfulness of the world.

We’ve lost our grace. We’ve lost our gentleness of spirit. Of course this isn’t true of everyone. And we have to defend the views of scripture and represent God on this planet. But it is not to us to pass judgment. It is not to us to speak wickedness, or to spout anything that is a ‘work of the flesh’.

I cannot accurately and fully capture the scope of this in one blog post. We know very clearly there is a war going on, and we know very clearly that Jesus gave us one special commandment: to go and tell the good news.

Every Facebook post, every tweet, every passing comment has its effect. Every time I overhear a conversation about the ‘scourge of homosexuality’ at my church, I get angrier. I’ve had to learn a lot of self-control to stop myself exploding with rage. I’ve had to learn so much about choosing my battles and living graciously and kindly. About receiving communion from someone whose views have historically worsened depression and suicidal tendencies I have encountered in myself.

I’ve had to learn about meekness, humility, kindness, gentleness, and so much more.

Here’s the closing blow: our mission on this earth is to spread the gospel. Every time a post appears that damns a particular group, more people fall away from God. There is no love in these conversations any more. Even if you say “I love you but…”, all we hear is “You need to change to be loved.” Right now I don’t care what you believe, as long as you believe in Jesus. I just care about how you express it.

That isn’t my problem. That isn’t on me. That’s on you, church. That’s on all of us as the church. But that’s not on the homosexual sitting at the back of the room on a Sunday, wondering if God can ever love her. That’s not on the transgender child unsure whether she should be attending the men’s group or the women’s group. That’s on all of us. I’ve been around churches and their rhetoric for nearly a decade. I’m used to this language now. But if it was the first thing I heard someone say about Jesus? I’d never have come back. I wouldn’t be saved. In fact, I’d probably be dead by now, depression finally taking its toll.

There are up to 7 million lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender folk living in the UK. Roughly. It’s very hard to be sure, it could be a lot less, it could be a few more. That’s up to 10% of the country that most of the church has written off.

I have one thing to say to every gay person thinking about Jesus, thinking about Christianity, thinking about God.

He hasn’t written you off.

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