In Acts chapter 10 Peter was up on the rooftop praying. He was a follower of the risen Christ, and he was a good Jewish boy — at that time the two pretty much went hand in hand. Jesus was Jewish, his disciples had all been Jewish except for the occasional woman at the well. Peter followed the commandments in the Torah, and this included the laws that prohibited eating certain animals.
So when he had a vision of a sheet of prohibited animals being lowered, and a voice told him, “Get up, Peter. Kill and eat,” he knew the answer: “Surely not, Lord! I have never eaten anything impure or unclean.” He probably wondered why God was testing him, but he felt secure in his answer. He had spent his whole life studying God’s word, and his time with Jesus had only strengthened that commitment. After all, hadn’t Jesus said, in his hearing, “I have not come to abolish the Law or the Prophets, but to fulfill them”? Maybe Peter thought his mind was playing tricks on him, since he was hungry and tired. Or perhaps he thought it was Satan tempting him away from the right path. But when the voice from heaven replied, “Do not call anything impure that God has made clean,” he may have thought to himself, huh, that does sound like something Jesus would say. But, still, no. He wasn’t going to abandon what he believed that easily.
Then it happened again. The sheet was lowered, the instruction repeated: “Kill and eat.” Peter again protested, and again the voice from heaven said, “Do not call anything impure that God has made clean.” It happened a third time, and then the sheet was lifted back up to heaven. As he was wondering what this meant, some messengers came for him from Cornelius the centurion — a Gentile (Gentile means not Jewish). And Peter began to understand. It wasn’t about the food. It was about the people. God was opening wide the kingdom to those who had not been welcome into it before.
And then he went and listened to Cornelius’ story, and learned that God had spoken to Cornelius, too. And then, and then — a second Pentecost. The Holy Spirit came upon Cornelius and the other Gentiles gathered there, just as the Spirit had come upon Jesus’ disciples in Acts 2. “The circumcised believers who had come with Peter were astonished that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on Gentiles. For they heard them speaking in tongues and praising God.” In the next chapter, Peter related this story to the other Jewish disciples and said to them, “So if God gave them the same gift he gave us who believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I to think that I could stand in God’s way?”
I was reading Acts 10 and 11 the other day, and I suddenly realized: This is how it happened for me. This is the same process I went through in my understanding of homosexuality from a Christian perspective. And I think this is how it happened, and is happening, to other Christians, too. We were up on the roof praying. Or we were watching TV, or reading a newspaper, or just going about our lives. And we heard a voice from heaven. Some heard a loud voice, and some heard it softly, in their hearts, the way they were accustomed to hearing God’s voice. Some of us didn’t recognize the voice right away — we thought it was just a thought passing through our mind, a question, a wondering. For some it took the form of, “If God created gay people, who am I to call them unclean?” For others we just felt a sense of our comfort being challenged. We were good Evangelicals, or Catholics, or other Bible-believing Christians. We knew what the Bible said, and how we were taught to interpret it, how our church, our school, our seminary interpreted it. So we dismissed the thought. “Never, Lord,” we said, each in our own way.
Some of us are there right now. The question has yet to be posed for a second time. We are still on the roof, praying.
Others of us have heard the voice a second time, and rejected it a second time. We are still on the roof, praying.
Others have heard the voice a third time, and pushed back against it a third time. We have come down from the roof and are wondering what it means.
For me, when I came down from the roof, the question burning in my heart and mind, I did what Peter did. I took the idea, the theory, into its context. Just as Peter went to Cornelius’ house, I went to the homes of gay couples, cared for their children (I am a nanny, in my day job), listened to their stories, and payed attention to what the Spirit was doing there. I started reading the stories of gay Christians who had struggled with their sexuality. I stopped talking about what I thought, and I started listening. And what I saw were people who were seeking God and wanting to serve God with their lives, just like I was. I didn’t see people in rebellion, rejecting God and choosing their sinful desires over God’s will. I saw people who had been called by God and who had received his Spirit, just as I had. I saw people like these, who attend Nadia-Bolz Weber’s church, A House For Saints and Sinners. And I saw young people like these, who fought for a long time to change who they were before they finally listened to God’s voice, and heard, “Do not call anything impure that God has made clean.” I saw people who thought they had to change to be a part of the body of Christ, but who were discovering that God created them that way for a reason, for his glory. I saw people who were using their same-sex relationships to love and serve God and feed his sheep, just as heterosexual couples were.
(I heard other stories, as well. Some gay people believed that God was calling them to celibacy, and I want to make space for them in my thinking and my writing, too. As I’ve said probably seventy times by now, that’s one of the reasons I love the Gay Christian Network, because they create that space.)
Many of us Christians have come down from the roof, and are still praying, still wondering.
Some of us have started listening to the stories of gay Christians, but we are not yet sure.
Some of us have seen the Spirit descend on LGBT Christians, and we are starting to wonder, “If God gave them the same gift he gave us who believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who am I to think that I could stand in God’s way?”
Me, I’m pretty sure of it. It took a while, and it took many times of me saying, “Never, Lord.” But there are only so many times you can cling to your beliefs in the presence of the Living God. There are only so many times you can repeat the words of scripture to the God that wrote them and expect to win the argument. Job and his friends learned that lesson, as they tried for chapter after long chapter to lecture each other about what God was doing, only to be silenced when God himself showed up. Paul learned that lesson when he took what his faith taught him about Jesus to the nth degree, only to be thrown to the ground and blinded when he met the Man himself. And Peter, dear Peter, who betrayed Jesus, who said the silliest things sometimes (oh, I do relate to Peter), and who was chosen, nevertheless, to lead and feed Jesus’ sheep — Peter learned that lesson when he saw the Holy Spirit poured out on those whom he thought were other, separate, not part of God’s plan.
“Do not call anything impure that God has made clean.”
I believe God is speaking this into the hearts of many Christians. I believe that God is moving among his people in a similar way to which he moved in Acts. Walls are being broken down. The Kingdom is expanding. Gentiles are invited in, along with Jews; gay, lesbian, and bisexual people are invited in, along with straight people; transgender along with cis. Those who are not there yet, who are still on the rooftop praying, are invited in, too. There is room for all of us here. There is room.
Update: I am embedding the two videos I mentioned earlier, because I really want you to watch them. The first is five minutes long, and the second about 45 minutes.
For more testimonies of LGBT people of faith, visit Faithfully LGBT.
A note on comment moderation: I value everyone who takes the time to read and to comment, even if you disagree with me. But I do not post all the comments. I know that’s hard. But my goal is to create a space here at Ten Thousand Places where people’s stories can be heard above the din, and where those whose lives we are discussing have a chance to speak for themselves. I do post comments by those who disagree with me, but I might not post all of them. I do my best to read all of them, though. Thank you so much for being here.
Thank you for sharing some lovely thoughts. This is a wonderful way to look at what is happening today.
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Thanks so much for this post. I so appreciate those from the same church/doctrine background as me who are making similar journeys into new ways of seeing.
God lowered that sheet down in front of me a whole lot of times – over the course of probably 25 years. (Change don’t come easy sometimes…) One of my first nudges 25 years ago was reading a response in a widely-read Christian publication to a letter from a gay man. The gay writer had explained that he had prayed and prayed for God to change him and he just didn’t know what to do anymore, and the responder didn’t even answer his question or hear what he said – he just started spouting the party line. I was disgusted by this leader’s inability to hear that poor man’s heart. And I didn’t know what I would have told that gay man myself, because I only knew the party line and I had to admit that I didn’t have all the answers.
Another nudge was actually meeting and knowing real gay people. I had been told “those people” were the enemy – I had heard them called “militant gays.” I particularly remember meeting one kind, sweet, gentle soul – who was obviously gay (he and his partner raised birds in their home and we were buying one for my daughter) and I felt the Holy Spirit reminding me “blessed are the meek” and I had no desire to fight against this person, but to protect him. And that still Voice said to me, “of such are the Kingdom of Heaven.”
Then one of my Bible College professors came out and we found each other on Facebook. And he told me his story – his story of being a depressed, over-eating closeted gay man begging God to change him for years and years while he acted straight – he married, had a family, and taught at Christian schools and led music in churches. But how now he was an honest gay man, still leading worship music in an inclusive church, still loving and worshiping Jesus. I asked him my questions, and he listened and answered them honestly.
And then I read Justin Lee’s book, ‘Torn.’ That was the last time the sheet needed to be lowered to me. I too love and appreciate the Gay Christian network’s “Side A” and “Side B” stance.
What I wish would happen now in the evangelical community is that believers would at least just accept that some people are gay through no choice of their own, and that maybe the pat answers don’t work. If we could at least go there – it would be so much more honest and loving of a stance to take.
Anyway, thanks for you, and your voice, Jessica.
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Debbie, thank you so much for sharing a little of your own story here. I’ve been so encouraged by your friendship and your perspective over these past years.
Debbie, this was beautiful! Thank you so much for sharing this! I’ve said nothing on my FB wall because I am soo conflicted and disgusted by both sides. These are hard questions, which I keep getting asked by so many. And, my only reply lately is that I love people and care deeply.
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” there are only so many times you can cling to your beliefs in the presence of the Living God. There are only so many times you can repeat the words of scripture to the God that wrote them and expect to win the argument.”
What a great quote…
as a woman, when the church wants to put me down, I always quote Paul to myself “in God, there is no male or female…. nothing can separate us from the love of God” and I think that applies to the whole marriage equality thing too – there is no male or female in God’s eyes, its just two people that love each other, same as in a hetero relationship, so there isn’t a reason they shouldn’t be able to be joined
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I must speak out, not sure what you mean when the church puts you down. I do need to add that as a Christian I do not hate people who sin, but I do hate sin. I also realize we each have to work out our own salvation but to imply that homosexuality’s or any sexual sin is alright to practice and is accepted by God is just wrong. I understand that people are attracted in different ways, that is why we even have the pedophile, sodomy etc. However, God is against such things and sexual sin is the only sin against our own bodies. Society tries to find ways to deal with these choices that people make but the Bible is clear. Just like lying, stealing etc, these are sin’s that if we continue to do with no regret then we are not seeking Gods will for our lives. We all have to change things in our lives that take us from God, some spend their whole life on the same sin. I do not want to go there. But I will not change Gods words, nor will I try and find a way to justify a sin. I am not perfect and I strive to become more like Christ, I do not advertise my sin as being pure, it is sin and that is what I would expect from anyone committing sexual sin. Adultery and fornication are also sexual sins, it is each person responsibility to read and accept Gods laws not rewrite them. I do not hate anyone but I do hate the sin and the influence that has come over so many young people’s lives. Sex is sex, however, how we learn it sometimes determines the direction you might go, so don’t beat up on Christians for trying to stand by Gods word.
Hi Sharon, Soundtek and I are also Christians trying to stand by God’s word, we just interpret it differently than you do. I definitely understand your perspective, and trust that you and I both love Jesus and are trying to serve him, and I would never beat you up for your beliefs. I trust God enough to guide each of us to the truth, as Paul says in Philippians, “And if on some point you think differently, that too God will make clear to you.”
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Oh, my heart. I felt every word of this. I am in tears. Thank you for sharing.
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Thanks for reading, Jenna!
You’re a pretty awesome woman with a loving heart for God and people. Keep feeding the flock!
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Thank you, Clay!
Being objective- addressing the thesis: Ethics vary but criticism distracts us from our own integrity
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Thank you for voicing some things I have been struggling with, to use your analogy, I’ve heard the third call and I’m off the roof. I’m part of a church that sees being gay as a sin. That does not see the possiblity of gay Christians, and wouldn’t care if they were celibate. To be gay is to be “unnatural”. And yet, that is not what I see. That is not my truth, not what I am hearing from the Holy Spirit. Thank you.
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Juanita, thanks for sharing this.
I have an unusual view on this by virtue of being asexual, to the point where neither sex is attractive to me, and marriage itself holds no interest for me, either. So I’ve always felt as an interested spectator, at best, in the marriage equality debate. I attend an ultra-liberal church whose pastor, and some members, regularly champion LGBT causes. So, you can imagine the Joyful Noise coming from her/them about now. For myself, my reaction has been, “Ah, good for them! Now can we do something about the West’s megadrought, ISIS, climate change, et al?” It’s not sarcasm; I AM glad about marriage equality, for the sake of all concerned. I just consider the deterioration of the planet to be a higher priority.
But back on topic, the key appears to be whether or not one believes that sexual orientation is a natural occurrence. From what I’ve read here and there, the consensus of those who believe that it’s a choice, believe that LGBT people deliberately abuse their free will to show God the middle finger and continue being all… gay and stuff. Because Satan and Reasons.
There is a less contentious version of this, where folks may believe that it’s natural, but that the person isn’t trying/praying hard enough to prevent acting on it. ie, letting their sinful thoughts guide their actions. I just finished reading comment after comment on somebody’s Facebook post that echo this sentiment. The “Pray the Gay Away” camp, if you will. (Some even offered “testimony” to its effectiveness). But like the not-a-choice folks above, this camp still condemns LGBT people to Hell for not trying hard enough.
I am, by no stretch of the imagination, a Biblical scholar, but your post is the best use of Scripture that I’ve seen to justify supporting marriage equality. “Nope; God loves everyone!” is true, but it was getting kind of stale as the usual counterargument. Yours was fresh!
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People find so much to choose from in the Bible, and don’t realize just how radically Jesus was as he broke his disciples from their ethical moorings. Mark 7:6-7 makes the point directly, and of course there is the great bursting of the boundaries of the Law in Matthew 22:37-40.
When Prop. 8 was on the ballot here in California, the pastor of the local mega-church exhorted his flock to “vote Biblically.” I shook his hand in the lobby afterwards and held on to proclaim: “When I think Biblically, I think of extending the covenant to as many people as possible, and that’s just how I’m going to vote.”
It is to us only to bring love into the world. Sometimes that does mean protecting people from themselves – for that reason we limit the rights of criminals. But I think that when we actually engage with gay couples, it’s impossible not to realize that these aren’t children or deviants, but rational and emotionally stable people that are doing the best they can to bring love (which is God) into the world. That must be celebrated!
Doesn’t Peter tell us what the point is in Acts 10:34-35? It was to teach Peter and those of us that read those events, not to show favoritism…but to accept all people from every nation. The point is that Peter and therefore all of us who claim to follow Christ should share the gospel with everyone. It’s not about accepting their lifestyles or somehow affirming their choices in life. It’s about not discriminating in the sharing of the gospel. That’s what the Jewish leaders had been doing for centuries and Peter had been influenced by their teaching and the Jewish culture. That’s why Jesus specifically pointed this out in Matthew 28:19-20. He told his Jewish disciples that they needed to be sure to go into all the “world” and share the good news with all ethnic people groups. It is obvious to me that this event occurred in Peter’s life to teach him that lesson. He finally got it! Let’s not make it into more than the text actually says…more than Peter himself said about it in verses 34 and 35. Otherwise we are breaking another command of God stated in 1 Corinthians 4:6 “…Do not go beyond what is written.”
Reblogged this on Whisper of Angels and commented:
A thoughtful and thought provoking post about not allowing ourselves to believe that we are God, yet allowing God to show us what is Godly.
As we wait upon the Lord he will reveal to us, in our own way and time, the truths we need to see.
However, at times he will lower the blinders off an entire generation.
May we be the generation that sees fully the reach and extent of God’s love.
Are there other sexual behaviors Christians have historically opposed which we should start to rethink?
Actually, yes, since you ask: I think the historical Christian perspective on masturbation has produced a lot of unnecessary guilt in young people.
Wait. Masturbation? Can you explain?
Hi Kim, thanks for stopping by. I think a lot of young people have experienced enormous guilt for what is a natural part of growing and exploring their own bodies and their sexuality. I think that instead of teaching just “Don’t do that, it’s sinful,” the church would do better to acknowledge that most boys and many girls do masturbate to some degree, and to teach appropriate boundaries and discuss how it might affect our relationship with God, with our understanding of sex and our bodies, with objectifying women and men, etc. As with sex in general, I also believe there should be a place for people whose convictions lead them to abstain. Hope that makes sense. ~J
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So what do you believe is sin? Rape? Drunkenness? Homosexuality? Incest? Stealing? Lying? Idolatry? …
Do you believe that all scripture of the supernatural Bible that is God breathed (2 Timothy 3:16) is true? Or not all of it? (hint: one of the answers is correct)
I understand however that we all struggle with the flesh, that is sin (Romans 3:23). If we are to be deniers of ourselves, cross-bearing, and followers of Christ (obedient to Christ) as in Matthew 16:24, why do you sound like you are calling a sin a non-sin? I’m asking this because I’m guessing that you have made a profession of faith in Christ and show interest in the scripture. As a brother of Christ, I exhort you that you need to read Romans 1 and really understand what it is saying. This is very important and as important as the entire scripture of the Bible is.
Hi Jason, thanks for reading and for commenting. I am a professed Christian, and have read the Bible many times. The thoughts in this post and in all my writing reflect a deep, life-long meditation on God’s word and a continual seeking to conform my life to my Savior’s. Over the years, I have come to feel that, “What do you believe?” isn’t as helpful a question for us Christians to ask each other as, “How are you directing your words, your actions, and your life towards Christ?” You and I have different interpretations of some parts of scripture, and have come to different conclusions about homosexuality, but we are both seeking to know, love, and serve God through Jesus Christ. So we have the most important thing in common! “And if on some point you think differently, that too God will make clear to you.”
Thank you for responding Jessica. I’ll have to read more of your posts to better understand where you are coming from and I’ll be back later to comment more.
I’m a bit confused here. When Moses recorded that these were “abominations” and capital offenses, was he wrong? Will someone come along in a few years and discover that God has declared pedophilia and bestiality clean also?
I think we’re moving in the other direction in terms of pedophilia: In Moses’ time girls were married off at the age of 12, sometimes earlier. We also no longer make women go to the edge of the camp when they have their periods, and we’ve generally accepted that men and women shouldn’t be owned by other men and women, something the Bible condones in both the Old and New Testament. And, as I referenced in this post, God changed Peter’s mind about Gentiles being allowed in the kingdom of heaven.
Thank you for this post, Jessica. Hopefully, more Christians will come to share your view. I found articles on gaychurch.org helpful, they also mention helpful books. Going to an LGBT-affirming church has made a big difference in my life. Acts 15:28,29 does not mention homosexual people should not get married: “For it has seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us to impose on you no further burden than these essentials: that you abstain from what has been sacrificed to idols and from blood and from what is strangled and from fornication. If you keep yourselves from these, you will do well. Farewell.” Since God loves me as I am, I choose to fellowship where I know I am accepted for who I am.
Thank you. I appreciate the time, thought, and prayer you have put into your post on this knotty issue. and also your moderation of the comments.
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