There is this idea that gets passed around conservative circles that if we, as a society affirm same-sex marriage, that it’s a slippery slope. The argument is that if we open this door, that it will open up doors to beastiality, legalized pederasty, polygamy, and so on. In the Church, it’s even more pointed and even more fear based.
If we, as a Church, allow for the affirmation of LGBTQ+ identities and same-sex relationships/marriage, that this inevitably leads to affirming beastiality (having sex with animals) and pedophilia (the sexual abuse of children). The argument goes that because queer individuals report that this is an inborn, immutable quality about their person, that those who are sexually attracted to animals or who feel an attraction towards children will make the same claim, and that we’ll all just make similar allowances for any desire.
But there is a huge problem with this argument.
The thing that is missing in the comparison of same-sex relationships with beastilaity and pedophilia is consent and agency of the body. An animal cannot consent to have a sexual relationship with a person. A child cannot consent to have a sexual interaction with an adult and their autonomy is taken away when they are abused. No matter who you are, no matter where you land on this topic, this is something that can’t be refuted.
Within loving, healthy, same-sex relationships, there is both consent and agency. People choose to enter relationships, and to leave them when they want. They can choose what to do with their bodies, and there is no violation of the agency of another. So while a person may report having naturally occurring attractions for animals or children, we must remember that just because we have urges that these urges to not violate the agency of another person or being.
People have also compared homosexuality with things like alcoholism, drug abuse, infidelity, and watching porn, arguing that these are feelings also arise from natural desire. However, these things are also rooted in choice.
While people may be more genetically predisposed to addiction, one still chooses to pick up the bottle and get drunk. One chooses to acquire and use drugs. And while some people may feel compelled to masturbate to porn, may feel this insatiable lust and feel compelled to have extramarital sex, those too are rooted in choice.
How your sexual orientation and gender identity is formed is not a choice. I’ve never met a single queer person in my life who will say that they chose this for themselves. Not to mention, the mounting scientific evidence surrounding how these facets of our personhood is formed illuminates further that we never chose to be this way. (But of course, science isn’t the Bible, am I right people?)
That’s where that argument breaks down.Click To Tweet
What if it’s actually not a slippery slope, but a dreadful and arduous path upward?
But, I will say, that in a way, the “slippery slope” argument is kind of true. In a sense, when you use a critical mind to examine scripture and experience, I feel in naturally leads one toward further inclusion and justice. However, we should invert it and call it a dreadful path upward, because honestly, no one simply falls into justice. You have to fight for it.
It is indeed a dreadful, arduous path upward, towards justice and inclusion, wherein you must bear your cross, wherein you are invited to suffer the ridicule and ostracization of your once very close community and die to what you formerly believed to be true, and then to be raised to a new life that is filled with mercy and justice. And all the while, you are being fought by your community, by society
Let’s look at three big movements within common theological shifts that have happened over the past couple centuries: the abolition of slavery, gender equality, and LGBTQ inclusion.
Abolition of Slavery
For a long time, slavery was justified by scripture. There are verses that speak specifically to how slaves should be treated, how slaves should be faithful to their masters, and so on. But, as time progressed, and we evolved as people, we looked at our experience, looked at scripture, and asked the Holy Spirit, did we get this wrong? Does God really give permission to people to own other people?
And we’d all probably say, “No, absolutely not. Slavery, in all forms, is sinful, because to sin against the image of God in black and brown people is violence against God.” And there were debates among Christians about this very thing, about our rights versus what the Spirit of God was doing, over what had always been done versus what we should do. And thus, we’ve progressed as a society. Do we still have a long way to go? Yep. A long, long way to go. It takes more than a few decades to undo centuries of slavery and racist mindsets that get passed on.
And it took a group of people using a critical lens and a new hermeneutical device to in order to move the Church from a position of being supportive of slavery to being supportive of abolition.
Now, if we use that same critical lens we used to study scriptures surrounding slavery, the same critical eye that observes our surroundings, environment, and experiences, and apply it to gender equality, specifically that women and men are equal, you will naturally become egalitarian.
Because for centuries, the practice has been to use scripture to subjugate women, to use specific verses that are based on the greco-roman household codes to make wives submit to their husbands without question, for women to be silent in churches, to disallow for the ordination of women as pastors and elders. But what we see now, after study, after looking at our experiences, and seeing the Holy Spirit empowering women to do work that, frankly, men cannot or will not do, we see that women are not only capable of being pastors and leaders, but are being called by God to do these works.
And so often, women do all the work of pastors in women’s ministry, children’s ministry, and a bunch of other service ministries within our churches, have all the responsibilities and roles of a pastor, but conservative individuals will still report that they are staunch gender complementarians, when in reality, they don’t even live that out. They are, at best, benevolent hypocrites.
So, we’ve used the same critical lens to discuss slavery (which naturally extends to racial justice) and women. If we use that same critical lens when discussing the Bible and LGBTQ+ inclusion, naturally one becomes affirming for the same reasons would support abolition and gender equity.If we use the same lens for abolition and gender equality, you naturally arrive LGBTQ inclusion. Click To Tweet
LGBTQ+ Inclusion, Affirmation, and Hang Ups.
In the same way that we use scripture, tradition, and experience when talking about abolition and gender equity to lead towards justice, we must do the same when talking about LGBTQ+ inclusion and affirmation. When one is in true relationship with queer Christians, and can see the active sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit, it would be a betrayal of one’s conscious to deny their full inclusion in the life and work of the church, as that would be a denial of experiencing more of God through service and participation.
In light of the mounting scientific evidence that sexual orientation and gender identity are inborn, immutable qualities in every person, and the testimony of individuals experience, it’s hard to not affirm queer people. Many churches, and even many conservative pastors, will say that they want to “honor and affirm our LGBT brothers and sisters.” They want to have gracious dialogue, include them (to a degree) in the life of their congregations, but for some reason, can’t seem to fully affirm their personhood or relationships. It’s almost like the dominant cultural narrative around LGBTQ+ still is playing in their heads, and thus leaving them paralyzed at the crossroads of what they know they should do and what has always been done.
What I’ve experienced in my own life with Christians, from my immediate family even, is the same type of benevolent hypocrisy many practices when talking about gender equity, where one acts better than they purport to believe. They treat me like family, ask me about my romantic life, are supportive of my advocacy projects, and you’d never ever know that they weren’t affirming unless you asked them point blank. And if you did ask them point blank, they’d probably answer with some trepidation.
When I talk to semi-progressive pastors, the feeling I often get is that they have a loyalty to their tradition, but feel this pull of the Spirit towards inclusion. They may say, “I just don’t know what to believe,” or “I want to badly to be affirming, but…” In all honesty, there are so many pastors out there who are affirming but don’t have the guts to say it out loud. They believe in the legitimacy of LGBTQ+ identities and that same-sex relationships and marriage can be just as God honoring as heterosexual ones.
The problem is figuring out why they believe what they do. They know that they are, almost as if their hearts and spirits believe before their head fully understands. And that’s why it’s an uphill battle. That’s why it’s an arduous, uphill, take-up-your-cross type problem, because the entire time you are journeying up this hill towards justice and inclusion, you are carrying the heavy burden of your context, your past, your community, and the knowledge of what it means to head in this direction.
Taking up Your Cross
When you stand up for marginalized people, when your beliefs begin to shift towards inclusion, you will stand to lose so much. Your community wants to fight you the entire the way, trying to slow you down, trying to show you how you are giving into sin. But I would argue that to wrestle with these questions and carry them through to completion and beyond is the path of Christ.
When Jesus said that we should take up our own crosses and follow him, I believe that he was talking about this. “Take up that which is terrifying and may strip you of all you had before, that which you know is right, follow me down a path that includes all the people that you were told didn’t belong and meet me at the top of the hill, where you will die.”
I personally believe that there is a consequence for not doing what you know to be right. Jesus even said that those who want to keep their lives will lose them, but those who lose their life will find it. This is one of those moments where we have an opportunity to lose our lives, lose what we believe to be the important things, like status, power, and credibility, in order to find that which matters, like love, joy, and peace.
For individuals who come from conservative contexts, they stand to lose a ton, namely community and family whom they love and have been a part of forever. This is especially true for pastors who come from conservative contexts who have had any marginal success. Just look at any pastor who has publically stated their affirming position in the past decade: they experience immediate excommunication and full-blown character assassination. (Jen Hatmaker is probably the most recent example.)
That’s the uphill battle. That’s Golgotha. You don’t simply slippery slope your way to inclusion. You don’t just fall into justice. You have to work hard and resist much. But that’s what it means to follow Jesus, and personally, if I’m following Jesus, I believe is worth giving up everything.One does not simply fall into justice. Click To Tweet
It takes grit, perseverance, and bravery. It takes giving up on what we’ve been told for generations about women’s roles and about queer people. It takes using our critical minds and the same hermeneutical lenses that we use to examine all the other big questions around race and gender that will lead us to a greater era of inclusion and justice.
And this isn’t about just making churches safer for queer people. It’s about making a better Church for everyone. That’s something we can all get behind.