- 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 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.
The answer to how those of us who support full LGBTQ inclusion in the church can hope to disrupt unwavering opposition to such inclusion is that experiences of holiness outside of heterosexual relationships will have to be made unavoidable and overwhelming. How this goal is accomplished is both incredibly simple and incredibly demanding: those who support full inclusion must seek after holiness with a zeal and passion that far outpaces the majority of those in the church today. LGBTQ people who are in the church must strive after Christian perfection in their lives and relationships to the point of so excelling the majority of those who oppose full inclusion in holiness that they are without an excuse. This exacting standard must be borne just as much by allies so that they might bear effective witness to the possibility of holiness in LGBTQ people and relationships, and so that no one can ever claim that their support for full inclusion comes out of any moral weakness or attempt at accommodating “the world.” On the one hand, such an answer to the question of how we disrupt entrenched opposition to full inclusion means expecting infinitely more of ourselves than is expected of most other people who fill our United Methodist Churches, so much so that it might seem an unfair burden has been placed upon us; on the other hand, nothing more is expected of us than that we actually live into our baptismal and membership promises, even if the majority of those around us do not.
While I said above that I do not think that most of the time people actually change their minds on deeply held beliefs through argumentation, this does not mean that I believe that it is no longer necessary to explain through theologically and biblically sound arguments how being pro-LGBTQ does not conflict with (at least the spirit of) the Bible and our theological tradition. Such arguments might not convince people who are unwilling to even ask the question, but for those whose minds have been opened to such a possibility, such arguments hold the power to convince. Such arguments become absolutely necessary for helping people who have gone from opposition to support for LGBTQ inclusion see that such a position does not mean abandoning a deep respect for the authority of Scripture or the Christian tradition. Such arguments become vital for showing those who have nothing to do with the church or Christianity—because they have only ever known a Christianity that preaches exclusion and marginalization of LGBTQ people—that Christianity does not necessarily entail homophobia and bigotry. So, I completely affirm not only the importance of such arguments, but also the endeavor both to continue making these arguments clearer and more widely known, and to continually seeking out more theologically and biblically sound arguments.
Ultimately, the most unsettling element of all this is not the difficulty of striving after lives of greater holiness or the task of witnessing to the holiness we have seen and heard about in others, but rather is facing the reality that there is no guarantee that our action cannot at the end of the day force anyone’s mind to be changed. Even in the face of the most world-shaking events, people still always have the freedom to become open to new possibilities or to hold that much stronger to their original beliefs. However, I am convinced that if there is any possibility for opening people to the possibility of the truth of our position, it is that we must faithfully bear witness to the truth through constantly striving for holiness and being ready to give an account if and when that witness has opened people to new possibilities.