From Robert’s Round Table
I am enjoying our Easter Season Intersections Sermon Series. The topics represent some of the most commonly stated reasons people 18-35 say they are not attending a church. This week’s theme of sexual identity and faith is one of the most sensitive reasons young people refrain from being part of the church. In short, the church’s judgmental attitude of people based on their sexual orientation or gender identity ranks high on the list for millennials who “just say no” to church. Of course, no generation is homogeneous in their beliefs and values, but overwhelmingly younger adults reject the notion that God rejects persons based on their sexual orientation or gender identity. Most young adults do not believe that a person chooses their sexual orientation or their gender identity and that even if they do, a God of love, mercy and compassion would not banish them from eternal life based on those factors alone. Most young people believe that our sexual identity is part of our genetic make-up, not a social choice. And, increasingly so do older adults.
Human sexuality has always been a “hot button” issue for communities of faith perhaps because of the socialized intimacy associated with sex or because our sexuality brings us as close as we may to being co-creators with God, the Creator of the universe. With genetic research and cloning this notion is changing somewhat, but throughout time the human reproductive miracle has stirred debate among the faithful. Humanity has evolved in our understanding of the miracle of birth from the blessings or curses of idols to the mythical stork of children’s tales to the invention of contraception and ever closer to genetic selection which allows would be parents to select the gender or other characteristics of their child. I know, the last one is a bit scary when you think about the possible consequences for society as a whole. Regardless, we are not as under informed as our ancestors were when it comes to sexuality and reproduction.
The Bible is full of stories, poems, and decrees about human sexuality. Many people believe that scripture is anti-sex, or at least anti-sexual enjoyment and that in the perception of the Bible sex is equivalent with sin. A light reading of scripture will surely point a person to the potential perils of our sexuality and to many holiness codes about sexuality, but should also reveal the blessed and joyful role of human sexuality in authentic relationships built on trust. As always we do well to remember the social and historical context from which the writers of scripture took their clues for understanding how faith and sexuality intersect. The ancients had little understanding of conception or the functions of our human anatomy without the aid of microscopes and ultrasound technology. The holiness codes of Leviticus, which go on and on for chapters about the “do’s and don’ts” of sex, were primarily designed to do two things: 1. To set apart the people of one God from the people of many gods 2. To provide healthy standards of sanitation based on the ancient understanding of the functions of the human body. A third understanding from scripture has to do with sexual morality, which often has to do with the denunciation of rape and the building of healthy, authentic relationships.
Currently, we are in a debate in our nation concerning gender identity and access to public restrooms. The Bible has nothing really to say to us directly on this issue, for the ancients had little knowledge of the privacy we demand in bath rooming today. The current debate has been the result of the broader issues of faith and sexual orientation and LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bi-sexual, and Transgender) human and civil rights. Truth be told, transgender folks have been using restrooms of their choosing for just about as long as restrooms have existed. And despite the fear mongering represented on cable news networks, statistics show no reason to fear the practice. This debate has led to a local ordinance in another state not only making transgender bath rooming illegal but also punishable by jail. And, the hate-filled rhetoric of the debate has resulted in renewed fear among the LGBT community. Here is an article to help us understand the fear.
Fear is powerful and irrational fear is the worst kind of powerful. The advancements we enjoy in our homes and public places have only been around for about 150 years and continue to evolve. Before private bathrooms and stalls, humanity was a much more public affair with conversation and even relationship building in public baths and yes, toilets (the non-flushing kind). They literally had nothing to hide. Now it is considered bad etiquette to speak to someone while using the restroom. In our quest for privacy we have walled ourselves in and others out to the extent that we no longer know each other, and this of course only begins in the bathroom and now extends to every part of our lives. Perhaps this is why it is so easy for some to condemn others who are not like them in some way. Perhaps this is why we live in fear and suspicion of almost everyone these days, because we don’t know them, which means we no longer have authentic relationships based in trust. Jesus didn’t avoid those who were different in any way. He sought out the outcast and they sought out him. He built relationships of mercy and grace. He listened and didn’t cast stones. He didn’t reject or condemn. He cared. We do well when we do the same.