Several years ago, cracks started to form in my theology about homosexuality and the Christian life.
I believed, with undeniable certainty, that while there was no culpability in the gay orientation itself, outward expressions of that orientation in sex or gay marriage were outside of God's design and therefore sinful. I had built the Titanic, and had declared it to be unsinkable.
I went to the people I trusted the most: other Christians I looked up to for guidance. Their response was withering: I was searching for loopholes to sin, they said. I was becoming morally and theologically bankrupt. My integrity was broken. The one thing that went un-examined were my questions themselves: questions that refused to go away, questions that made my brain hurt, like splinters.
This experience was very damaging for me, and I walked away having learned a frightening lesson: questions – especially questions about hot-button topics like homosexuality – can potentially brand you as some kind of traitor, or at the very least theologically lost and deceived. In either case, your underlying integrity as a person is questioned and invalidated.
I knew that wasn't true. I wasn't questioning what I believed because I lacked integrity, but the opposite: integrity and underlying values that inform my moral meta-narrative had led me to the questions, not away from them. I was wounded, in part because I was unjustly branded a man with no integrity, when I knew I was trying my best.
This gets at the root of why I believe the gay debate is so relentlessly bloody, and takes so many casualties. It has become almost impossible to make a stance without also invalidating the integrity of your "opponent." We do it all the time, and it needs to stop.
Look at any Christian site or forum where homosexuality is being discussed. The comments are rife with invalidation. Some of the nastiest, darkest places I've ever encountered on the web are sites where Christians gather together to invalidate each other while the whole world watches.
And the arrows go both ways. The traditional ethic (what we call SideB over at the Gay Christian Network) have a slew of invalidating terms for those who are affirming of gay marriage (what we call SideA). SideA people are selfish, they say. SideA people are full of intellectual and theological compromise because they just want to have sex. SideA people are theologically uninformed, lacking moral certitude and bowing to the pressures of the surrounding culture. SideA people are, they say, intellectually dishonest, and the underlying reason is that they lack the guts to take up their crosses and follow him.
SideA people, though, have an equally nasty list of phrases for SideB people. They call SideB backwards, and self-hating, and dominated by fear, self-loathing, and medieval religious structures. They say Side B people are on the wrong side of history, and that the course of social evolution will inevitably eradicate their uninformed, backwards ways.
In both cases, we invalidate the integrity of those we disagree with. Until we stop invalidating each other's integrity, we will never have a productive, life-affirming, and Christ centered dialogue about homosexuality. As long as we create a moral caste system and put our supposed opponents one step below us, the gay debate will never be anything more than a war that destroys the church.
It is true that some SideA people are intellectually and theologically bankrupt, but I also know many SideB people who are, too. It is true that many SideB people are profoundly self-loathing and have a fear-based theology, but I know just as many SideA people who struggle with just as much fear and self-hatred.
But I also know men and women of enormous integrity on both sides of the debate, and in the cases of these people, it was, in fact, their integrity that led them to their divergent beliefs.
My friend Marcus has been excommunicated from his denomination, has lost his job as a missionary and pastor, and is now unemployed because he held, with conviction, to the belief that God blesses gay marriage. He examined Scripture, and found the traditional ethic misguided. He is now preparing to live his life as a full-time missionary within the gay community, to spread the Gospel of Christ.
My friend Jacob, a Roman Catholic, has studied the scriptures and traditions of the church, and has found the liberal ethic ultimately misguided though well-intentioned. He sacrifices a great deal for this belief: being gay himself, he will never be able to permit himself to marry another man.
In both cases, integrity is the guiding force for these two men, and it has come at an enormous cost for them both. And here is the important part: as a Church, we need the integrity that both these men offer. This doesn't negate the need for criticism and dialogue, but it does means that whatever criticism we do offer must be under-girded with respect.
We must all come to the table assuming that we are men and women of integrity, and that we believe what we believe because of where that integrity has led us.
Too often, we use ourselves as the moral measuring sticks for those around us. SideB people say SideA people are selfish and buckling to sin, because that is the only way SideB people could ever conceive of being SideA themselves. SideA people call SideB people self-hating, because that is the only way they, themselves, could ever adhere to the traditional ethic.
It takes a muscular, flexible, and grace-filled mind to see the underlying goodness and integrity upholding beliefs that we ultimately disagree with, and until we do, we will never transform the war to a banquet.