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Same-Gender Love: “Can we Break Bread Together?”By Gena Minnix
I read a story recently that will be familiar to many of us. The story was about Jason Thomas, a well-loved member of his faith community. The article about Thomas included a copy of a letter from his pastors counseling him to “trust God” and allow God to “transform his heart” to be content to live as a single, celibate, and/or straight man. Like so many gay Christians, Thomas didn’t feel that he could, in good faith, leave the man he loved. So his church saw no alternative but to revoke his membership.
Thomas’ story highlights how painful these choices can be for pastors and LGBT members of conservative faith communities. As a counselor, researcher, and Evangelical Christian, I’ve spent years studying psychology research and Biblical scriptures. It’s interesting to note that the field of psychology and the conservative Christian church used to agree. Sixty-years ago, both viewed same-sex orientation as an addiction, assumed to bring about mental, psychological, and spiritual harm.
But since then, the psychology and counseling fields have shifted that position, and many may not be fully aware why this change occurred. The field shifted when studies consistently confirmed two findings: 1) efforts to change or “recover” from sexual orientation are not effective, and 2) supported, committed, loving same-gender couples and families are as happy, healthy, and well-adjusted as couples of opposite gender. These findings were so prevalent, sound, and compelling that the mental health profession reversed its position.
Is same-gender love like an addiction?
This question can be a natural one for those not aware of, or convinced by, the research on love and addiction. Many pastors are experienced—and effective—at working with folks recovering from addiction to pornography, sex, alcohol, or drugs; therefore the “addiction lens” offers a familiar framework. And the difference between same-gender love and sex addiction can be difficult for the lay person to understand. Sex addiction is harmful and does respond well to recovery efforts and 12-Step programs where sobriety is achieved through surrender to God.
However, there are some important differences between sex addiction and same-gender love, and these have to do with how they function in the brain, and how they impact the health and wellness of the individual. Addiction of any type functions within the brain’s pleasure/pain network. As we lose our ability to resist an addiction, we tend also to lose our capacity to be loving, selfless, restrained, generous, and spiritually-attuned people. In contrast, neuroscience finds that same-gender partnerships and marriages activate the brain’s neural network for love, care, nurture, and bonding, just like in heterosexual couples. In loving Christian marriages—of both same or opposite gender—both partners experience enhanced health, wellness, and spiritual growth.
Is same-gender love Biblical?
While psychology may be a helpful source of information about human health, for Christians, Biblical scripture is of utmost importance. Ministers may understand the research on love and addiction, but still find it difficult to reconcile this knowledge Biblically. In light of verses that mention “man” and “wife”, and verses that mention “homosexual immorality”, it may seem natural to put same-gender marriage in the “immorality” category, rather than the “love” category.
However, there are good cases to be made for considering verses about homosexuality to be condemning something other than same-gender love and marriage. Theologians make this case in the following way: If we define “sin” as something that separates us from God, causes harm, and/or damages our spiritual health, then we might say sin is something that “misses the mark of love”. Verses about “homosexual immorality” condemn sexual behaviors that abuse, exploit, or harm a person of the same gender. In contrast then we might see those same verses casting a vision for healthy Christian same-gender love and marriage—the same way verses about “heterosexual immorality” show us what healthy Christian opposite-gender love and marriage looks like.
Can we break bread together?
I don’t personally know the ministers at Jason Thomas’ church, but I believe they are probably like other pastors I know—loving, caring, prayerful people. They are probably wrestling with questions like, “Is it possible for prayerful, faithful people to arrive at different conclusions?” and “Does God require us to break fellowship when we do?” I’m a member of a church within a larger conservative Christian denomination that’s exploring the values of humility, empathy, participation, and mystery within a diverse, committed, prayerful community. The experience has been very meaningful; it’s brought me into closer relationship with God, our pastors, and our LGBT friends. We are breaking bread together with those who are different from us, and I believe it’s caused each of us to grow in our faith.
With this post, I hope to invite discussion about how churches like Thomas’ might find a way to preserve Christian fellowship and community. I believe psychological research can help us interpret scripture and discern how best to love and serve one another. And I believe it is possible to share in Christian communion with those who are different from us. I would also say to pastors like Thomas’, thank you for the role you play in our communities; your work is so important and needed. As we take the time to learn about psychology, love, and addiction, and consider various scripture interpretations, may we continue to prayerfully discern God’s spirit, in the name of Christ.
A few questions for ongoing reflection:
“When have we been guided by God’s spirit to shift our views on a subject?”
“What examples do we find in scripture of God revealing information that led Christians to change their practices?”
“When have we experienced diversity in our beliefs, yet still preserved our connection and communion?”
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