I am not suggesting for a moment that my extended family is weirder than any one else’s. I am also not suggesting that we are any less weird. Chances are pretty good that we fit under that 68.4 percent normal distribution bulge in the bell curve of weirdness. When it comes to religion, we are all over the place.
I have a relative that is pretty Jesus-y and assumes because of what I do that I am in full agreement with her on spiritual matters. She is wrong. I have another relative on the other end of the spectrum that concluded that because of what I do, I must condemn homosexuals. She is wrong, too. The Barna Group found that the first word that came to the mind of 91 percent of non-Christian Americans to describe Christians was some variation of “anti homosexual.”
Dan Savage is a writer and editor who began the “It Gets Better” video project after the death by suicide of a 15 year-old boy who was bullied for his perceived sexual orientation. John Shore is also a writer and founder of “Unfundamentalist Christian.” Together, they have launched the “Not All Like That Christian Project,” where LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender)-affirming Christians can post YouTube videos sharing their belief that there is nothing anti-biblical about being lesbian, gay, bi-sexual or transgendered and that it is possible to be both faithful and affirming.
The NALT (Not All Like That) project participants are a fascinating collection of Christians that cuts across denominational, gender, racial and age barriers. Many are clergy, most are life-long Christians who have sought a way to reconcile their modern understanding of sexuality with what they perceive to be a divine calling to place love above law.
If nothing else, the NALT Project at very least hopes to raise awareness that there is no single Christian doctrine on homosexuality just as there is no single interpretation of the bible and that, like both of my relatives, what you assume about Christians may not be correct.
There are more than 30,000 verses in the Bible and six of them appear to pertain to same gender relationships. There are significant translation issues with all of them, including a word that the apostle Paul seems to have coined himself that is not used elsewhere. Those who use the phrase, “clear teaching of the Bible” have apparently not dug very far, and may be relying more on tradition and on multiple layers of English translation than what is actually in the text.
What we understand about gender and sexuality has changed a great deal in a very recent period of time. It wasn’t until 1920 that women had the right to vote and until the 1930s the vast majority of school districts required female teachers to be unmarried. It was not until 1973 that the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of the American Psychiatric Association stopped classifying same gender preference as a mental disorder. If it feels like this is new territory, it is.
The fact that not all Christians are in the same place on this should also not be terribly surprising; squabbles among the first Christians provided ample grist for St. Paul’s mill. I am aware that I am probably in the minority among my colleagues on this issue. I am aware that members of my parish do not agree with me. The calling of the church, however, was never to be of one mind on all things, but to be one body willing to reason together to find a way forward in the midst of things we know we do not fully understand and to find a compassionate balance between law and love.
In 1999, Episcopal Bishop John Shelby Spong published his book, “Why Christianity Must Change or Die.” What we see today is that in various ways, it is doing both. I wonder which it will accomplish first.
• Steve Hammer is the pastor at Esperanza Lutheran Church in Ahwatukee Foothills.