I have spent some of this week drafting a chapter for a book on bisexuality. The invitation to write came from a friend of ours tasked with producing a thoughtful and speedy response to a specific and volatile situation emerging in the church in another European country. Simply stated, a pastor acknowledged during his sermon on honesty that he is bi. By all accounts it was just a brief reference, in no way polemical, but it was enough to set the hares running.
This declaration is a kind of ‘Marmite’ event in a relatively conservative Christian community. Similarities with Brexit in the UK. I don’t know the local church community in question but it is not difficult to anticipate the likely reactions. There will be those who see a pastor saying something like this as yet another erosion of Christian values. They will argue that it needs to be confronted directly. That ‘the’ Christian view needs to be clearly stated.
Then there will be many others who regard this primarily as a matter of pastoral care. They will know that the pastor is human, and that he and the pastoral family will need support in the face of the many-pronged hostility which is bound to come their way. In spite of the fact that the pastor neither chose to have these feelings nor acted upon them.
I am no expert on bi-sexuality and only agreed to write if I could produce a sort of stream of consciousness. Having secured the editor’s agreement, I simply sat and wrote whatever came. And it came! Mostly in the form of questions.
Was it wise for the pastor to go public even if only briefly? Could he not just continue to fly below the radar? Did he not realise that this would have a divisive effect on his church, his circles of friends and the larger community? Will there be any effects on the children of the community? Does the individual matter more than the community? We can show ourselves sympathetic but is this not a slippery slope?
And then the stream flowing in the opposite direction. As a Christian can I ever require another human being not to tell the truth about who they are and to behave on the outside differently from what they believe themselves to be on the inside? Should the church not be above all, an honest and welcoming community? Is this whole sexuality issue not largely a tangled matter of genetics, hormones, environment? Is it not that body chemistry is a bit of a lottery and, as a straight man, I ‘got lucky’ and was spared this inner turmoil? I haven't had to carry the opprobrium that this person carries - will he not need help carrying the burden now thrust upon him?
And the questions kept coming and coming. Rather uncomfortably I began to find that it was I who was being interrogated. Do I really understand the plights of people on the margins like this? Where is my gut instinct on this when all the nuances have been removed? As a scholar in this area, would I be willing to go public in defence of this man and those like him if that was my conviction?
These questions were accompanied by a parade of emotions. Confusion, sympathy, fear, pity, anger, admiration. I like to think of myself as open. Not judgemental. But I did find myself rushing to some judgements. And I did not know where these judgements would finally settle. I was not quite sure where I stood. I have done a lot of work on the ethics of sexuality and thought at my age I had developed a fairly stable set of convictions but.... in this particular case, they were being challenged again. I was struggling.
I believe that Christianity calls for unconditional loving compassion towards our fellow human beings. I also know that radical Christianity has always swum against the cultural stream.
So my stream of consciousness chapter is very much a work in progress. I must think and listen. If any of our readers has something that they think I should listen to, I am ready to hear. I am struggling with this…more than I expected.
The last line of the draft I have written is a prayer for me and for all Christians involved in this debate: ‘Lord, have mercy on me, on us, as we sing our ‘broken hallelujahs’.