This is part 2 of a 3-part series. Read part 1 here. Part 3 will be posted tomorrow.
- by Rev. Chris Corbin -
Rev. Chris Corbin is a provisional elder in the United Methodist Church from the Florida Conference currently under appointment as a doctoral student in theology at Vanderbilt University. His primary research interests relate to establishing a robust theological notion of the nature and mission of the church in the world. He is incredibly interested in ecumenical work, exploring new models of theological education, and helping to reclaim a distinctively Wesleyan way of being Christian in contemporary society.
If I’m right that people—all people—aren’t argued out of their deeply held beliefs, but rather change their beliefs or become open to changing their beliefs as a result of experiences that upset their worldview, then we need to stop figuring out how we can best argue and begin thinking how we can best provide worldview disrupting experiences.
By and large, I’d say that the real issue at stake in all these debates is holiness. All the questions about whether homosexuality is “compatible with Christian teaching,” or “sinful,” or “contrary to God’s plan” are really just questions about whether it is even possible for any sort of sexual practice other than (certain kinds) of heterosexual practices to be conductive to or compatible with holy living. The reason I say that this is really a question of holiness is because, at least for us Wesleyans, holiness and sinfulness are the only two states that we can occupy. One either strives for holiness through acts and thoughts that help dispose oneself towards perfectly loving God above all else and one’s neighbor as oneself, or one backslides through sinful acts and thoughts which impede one from realizing the perfect love of God and neighbor.
For the most part, those of us who favor full LGBTQ inclusion in the church would want to argue that non-heterosexual sexual practices hold just as much potential for facilitating growth in holiness or impeding it as do heterosexual practices—what matters is not the acts themselves but how and in what context they are practiced (for instance, one might argue that what makes certain sexual practices conducive to holiness is that they are part of a monogamous, faithful, loving, and mutual relationship, regardless of the sexual orientation/gender identity of the people involved). On the other hand, those who think that non-heterosexual sexual activity is sinful, and thus never conducive to growth in holiness, would claim that while heterosexual sex can be either help facilitate holiness or could be sinful, something about non-heterosexual activity necessarily prevents it from ever leading to holiness.
What seems to need to be disrupted, then, is the assumption that the only relationships in which sex can facilitate holiness are heterosexual. So what do I mean when I say that a relationship helps facilitate growth in holiness? At the most basic level, I mean that the relationship helps all people within it to grow in holiness, that is, to grown in love of God and love of neighbor. But what exactly does this holiness look like? While I think there are probably certain characteristics that almost always accompany holy people or relationships, it is my contention that holiness is a quality that exceeds our capacity for precise definition and quantification. In all the cases of people I have known who I would call holy, I knew they were holy not because of these particular words or that particular deed, but because there was something about their whole lives, their whole beings that brought out for me my own failure to truly love God and truly love my neighbors, and that called out for me to strive all that much more to emulate their lives. Of course, while holiness itself is a quality that escapes our ability to fully comprehend and describe, it is completely understandable why such a quality would be so hard to pin down. Holiness is not really one quality among others, but is rather the way of describing how much someone’s whole being has become conformed to God. Just as God ultimately escapes our capacity for total comprehension, it would make sense that the more someone is conformed to Godlikenss, the more their being will be beyond our grasp.
If holiness is a quality that cannot be reduced to any number of specific variables in a person or relationship, a quality that eludes precise definition, a quality that grasps all those in its presence, then true holiness will always disrupt whatever artificial confines and limitations placed on it by human beings. I know that heterosexuality is not necessary for holiness because I have been given the gift of experiencing holiness in so many non-heterosexual people and relationships. It is my belief and hope that when confronted with individuals and relationships that exhibit such holiness, those who hold so tightly to the “incompatibility” between LGBTQ peoples and relationships and growth in holiness will no longer be able to hold such beliefs unquestionably.
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