Within Christianity today there is growing controversy over the moral status of homosexuality. It has become almost routine for conservatives to represent this controversy as a debate between two camps: the faithful who follow God’s will, and the sell-outs who have abandoned God’s word in favor of secular culture. But no Christian, even the most liberal, thinks that we should pay more attention to secular culture than to God.

The question, for the liberal Christian, is not whether we should obey God, but how we should discern God’s will. The question is whether the condemnation of homosexuality truly represents that will.

At the heart of this debate is how the Bible is related to God’s will. Every Christian believes that the Bible has authority, but not every Christian understands the nature of that authority in the same way. Consider the following possibilities: Is the Bible, sentence by sentence, the inerrant Word of God, each phrase carrying the stamp of infallible divine wisdom? Or is the Bible a human testament to God’s revelation of himself in history, a testament that is rich in meaning and insight into God’s nature and will, but is a human testament and therefore imperfect?

The first option is appealing. If we accept it we have a rule book, written by God, about how we should live. But maybe God didn’t mean for life to be that easy. Maybe he wants us to learn how to live by paying compassionate attention to our neighbors rather than by consulting a book of rules. Maybe he wants us to remember that people are more important than books, and so he reveals himself most fully in people rather than in written words. The Bible itself teaches that Jesus — a person — is the most fundamental revelation of God. And Jesus did not sit down and write a book. He had more important things to do. If God is love, then we should expect God to reveal himself in people more than in books. People can love. Books can only tell us about love and the people who express it. The story of Jesus is powerful, but Jesus is more important than his story. And Jesus comes to us, or so the Bible says, in the person of the neighbor in need.

This is why progressive Christians like myself demand that the church change its position on homosexuality — not because we don’t care about the will of God, but because we disagree about how best to discern God’s will. We believe that to brush aside the anguished cries of our gay and lesbian neighbors is to brush aside the very voice of God. We believe that to pay more attention to Romans 1:26-27 than to the life stories of our gay and lesbian neighbors is to fail to love them as we should. It would be like ignoring the horrified protests of my daughter as I forced her to marry her rapist on the grounds that Deuteronomy 22:28-29 says a man who rapes an unpledged virgin should be required to pay the father a fine and marry his victim. This rule expresses the patriarchal values of ancient Israel, values that meant a young woman needed a husband to survive and that a rape victim was damaged goods who would never find a husband. Love tells us that these values were wrong because they did devastating harm to women.

Likewise, the biblical prohibitions on homosexuality are harming our gay and lesbian neighbors today. If you don’t see why I think so, go to the Pride Festival in Oklahoma City this weekend and invite a few of the gays and lesbians you meet for coffee. Ask them to tell you their stories and struggles. Ask them, especially, to tell you what the Christian prohibition on same-sex relationships has meant in their lives. Go to a PFFLAG meeting and do the same. Listen with compassion. To do so is an act of love.

Love is more important to me than any isolated biblical text. If I choose accordingly, does that mean I’m ignoring God’s will? Of course not. To choose love IS to choose God.

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