While some Christians argue there can be no middle ground on same-sex behavior, one author argues for a third way approach. "In a perfect world, we would be free to hold our deepest beliefs and no one would experience marginalization," says Wendy VanderWal-Gritter.

While some Christians argue there can be no middle ground on same-sex behavior, one author argues for a third way approach. “In a perfect world, we would be free to hold our deepest beliefs and no one would experience marginalization,” says Wendy VanderWal-Gritter.

“There is no third way,” Southern Baptist Theological Seminary president Albert Mohler wrote in a June 2 blog post. “A church will either believe and teach that same-sex behaviors and relationships are sinful, or it will affirm them.”

Arguing against such an assertion is difficult if you follow American religious life closely. Pastors in the United Methodist Church have proposed a “middle path” too, but some now believe a denominational split over the issue is imminent. Some in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America once claimed they held to a “middle way” in the debate, but they can hardly claim to be Switzerland after electing their first openly gay bishop last year. One strains to find an example of a Christian organization who has been able to thread the needle on the matter.

But one Christian theologian, Wendy VanderWal-Gritter, says a third way is possible. In new book, Generous Spaciousness: Responding to Gay Christians in the Church, she lays out her vision for faith communities where various perspectives on sexuality can thrive alongside each other. Wendy claims that the church has been distracted with the politics around homosexuality and our obsession with orientation change and causation. A self-described “eclectic Calvinist,” Wendy is a theologian and PhD candidate who serves as executive director of New Direction Ministries. Here, we discuss her provocative ideas for carving out a third way on the so-called “gay issue” in the church.

RNS: Some might say that what you call “generous spaciousness” is just tolerance. Is there a difference?

WV: When I tolerate someone with whom I disagree, I bite my tongue a lot but I don’t open my heart. Tolerating can mask all kinds of uncharitable attitudes toward the other. Where people feel forced to extend tolerance, resentment typically simmers just below the surface.

In generous spaciousness, I choose to listen deeply to the other, expecting to encounter God in our conversation. With generous spaciousness, I am seeking to experience a sense of community with those with whom I disagree. That means I intentionally contribute to an ethos of mutual respect. True respect doesn’t whitewash differences as if they don’t matter. But in generous spaciousness I allow myself to wonder if there might be more for me to learn and discover as I build relationship with the one who sees things differently than I do.

Image courtesy of Brazos Press

Image courtesy of Brazos Press

RNS: Many have argued of late that there is no middle ground and no third way on the issue of sexuality for Christians. What say you?

WV: If middle ground is seen as some sort of wishy-washy compromise, it is rightly judged as neither upholding deeply held convictions nor working towards the undoing of injustice and oppression. However, if a posture like generous spaciousness is recognized as the narrow path of humbly humanizing the other through intentional listening, then it shouldn’t be so easily dismissed. In a perfect world, we would be free to hold our deepest beliefs and no one would experience marginalization. We should recall our interdependence and, as Desmond Tutu says, remember that if I diminish you – then I diminish myself.

RNS: One of the biggest influences on how one sees this issue is relationship. What do you say to a traditionalist congregation that fears making space for other views is just a one-way street to liberalism?

WV: In the way of Jesus, we are challenged to extend love to those we think have it completely wrong. We can commit ourselves to such outrageous and radical love because our faith tells us that the Holy Spirit can be trusted to convict, correct, and guide others in the way they should go. That means I don’t have to control others – I can risk loving and trusting them in the confidence that God is in control.

When we gather as the people of God in our congregations, we are invited to be energized by love – not by fear, discerning together, and mutually honoring one another. But it’s difficult to listen to someone with different experiences and perspectives while focused on defending our own position.

RNS: You point out that fear can keep people from engaging this issue. How so?

WV: Fear whispers accusations that blind us to the possibility of God showing up in unexpected places. Fear deceives us into believing that we have to protect God. We put God in our own box, failing to humbly acknowledge that our doctrines are always limited by our imperfect interpretations. God is bigger than our traditions, bigger than the Scriptures, bigger than the wisest thoughts any human being has ever had. When we are free of fear, our hearts can be open to the wonder of our wild and untamable God. When we are free of fear we don’t have to hide behind a certainty that so often smacks of arrogance and pride. And when fear has been replaced by love, shame about our bodies, our sexuality, and our desires loses its sting.

RNS: A lot of progressives feel that making space for traditionalists is regressive and even oppressive. What do you tell them?

WV: In the body of Christ, there are many different parts with many different functions – but one part cannot say to another, “I have no need of you.” It is the reaching and grasping for power and dominance that has consistently been the downfall of humanity throughout the story of Scripture. The subversive strategy of God, the incarnation, reveals that humility is the way to enact true reconciliation and justice.

If progressives dominate and alienate traditionalists, are we any further ahead? Rather, we are called to find unity in our diversity where we recognize that only by extending unconditional hospitality and mutual respect to each other can we participate with God in the pursuit of justice. Part of mutual respect is holding one another accountable for words and actions that dehumanize any other person and persevering until attitudes, postures, and engagement honor all human beings as image-bearers of God and worthy of dignity.

RNS: Look into your crystal ball. Where will the Western church be on this issue–both theologically and ecclesiologically–in 25 years?

WV: I don’t think this will become a non-issue theologically. Churches will still identify themselves by their strong stance – both on the right and the left. In third-way type churches this will be a non-issue in terms of relationships. In 25 years, LGBTQ people and their families will be a vibrant part of the church community , serving and using their gifts in a wide variety of capacities – but at the highest levels the question of ordination may still be debated. Some LGBTQ Christians will persevere in their third-way church. Other LGBTQ Christians will be in key leadership roles in affirming churches.

The LGBTQ Christians I know often have a tremendous capacity to extend grace because of their love for Jesus and for the church. In 25 years, I hope this testimony will have demonstrated that without the voices of our LGBTQ sisters and brothers, we are all impoverished.

85 Comments

  1. Comment marked as low quality by the editors. Show comment
    • Perhaps so, but legally we prohibit pedophilia becouse the child is unable to give informed consent. We have a variety of laws that restrict the rights of children because they are inexperienced. Pedophilia is considered a disorder becouse the adult is building a relationship with someone who cannot make an informed choice on the relationship and the adult’s attraction is based on a temporary feature. Prohibitions on pedophilia are based on the imbalance of power in the relationship which makes it on of the worst comparisons for a rational opposition to homosexual relationships since homosexual actually has same built into the name. Should the legal status of women be returned to one that is effectively less then men’s the idea of legal same-sex marriage would be over. If marriage=man+woman and man=woman then marriage=man+man or woman+woman. Since a child, an inanimate object, or an animal are not equal to man or woman there is no basis to same-sex marriage to lead to adults marrying any of those. As for poly marriage, historically poly marriage has been based on the low standing of woman, until someone comes up with a system to legally make 3 or more equal to 2 polygamy is mothers an issue. Unless we go back to viewing one gender as less then the other.

  2. Please note the lack of religious diversity in the title of this piece addressing the assumption of the problem, and the implied exclusiveness of the group seeking a solution. This is all on purpose.

  3. Whatever “third way” that is achieved is very likely not to be “way” at all. I think a better word for it would be “process.” It’s reasonable for communities to undergo a process of discernment but at some point, the practices of the church in question will ultimately define their position on this issue, affirming or not. Tony Jones has a blog post that has laid this out well. The true challenge of forging a sustainable third way on issues of equality is the difficulty of coming to the conclusion that people deserve only partial equality. If a community approves of LGBTQ involvement in their midst, on what basis do they limit their participation? In the end, it’s a very unwelcoming welcome. Gay church goers might be welcomed into a “generous spaciousness” but will they be allowed to teach sunday school? Will they be allowed to sing in the choir? Will they be allowed to be on staff? As the culture continues to move the needle on this issue, I find almost every “third way” pitch highly untenable in the long run. To me the “third way” is like a moderate evangelical dog whistle that sends the message that, “we’re not like scary Al Mohler but if you’re expecting full inclusion…..we gotta kick this can down the road a few times before we decide.”

    • Exactly, culture itself is moving the needle. Not church.

      And what is “culture”? That is the disturbing part.

      Any church making changes to fundamental doctrine for the benefit of the culture surrounding it ceases to be what they once were. They become like the surrounding environment. And when they look no different, they cease to be a church all together.

      • What makes you think church positions are EVER unchanging and inflexible? That it is something chalked up to “culture”? Wishful thinking.

        Church doctrines fundamentally change all the time in light of the nature of their congregations. In light of the society in which they operate in. They have ALWAYS become like the surrounding environment because they are usually the slowest to acknowledge social changes. Sticking to doctrines which alienate those in the pews has never served a church well.

        Religion by its nature gravitates towards socially conservative, if not reactionary. Progressive, socially aware churches are the exception, not the rule.

        Doctrines of intolerance and sectarianism always give way in a peaceful environment. Outright hatred becomes bickering, becomes harmless sniping, becomes revisionism of “we always accepted this”. We already have historical examples concerning various church doctrines on race, and sectarianism.

      • Understand your position but this post is entertaining a third way, something I’m sure are unhappy with anyway. This post and my comment are not going to please you and they aren’t meant to please you. That being said, culture has moved and will continue the needle on lots of issues ranging from appropriate dress to how churches are built, worship arrangments, etc.. To avoid the cultural influences on church life is impossible. But good luck.

        • Agreed, it will be impossible.

          Because culture, ours anyway, is powered by institutions. Governments, nonprofits, for profit media and companies. Not individuals. Individualsare just the consumers of the culture presented them…not the driver. Only once enough cultural consumers get behind an idea does it become “mainstream”. Individuals and the lives are the byproduct, not the genesis of a cultural progression.

          Sorta a stark contrast to the primary mechanism of democracy. ..being voting, by individuals.

          But aside that observation, church culture is based on doctrine. When the surrounding institutions present a culture that conflicts with the doctrine and by extension church culture, the church defends itself or changes itself in response. If its better or worse post change is purely a matter if individual.

          But proof of point: americans did vote as individuals on the gay issue. Almost universally they said no. Institutions with social agendas and money power were the ones getting things overturned.

          So does individual voting matter to society? No. Do individuals drive social change? No. We are merely responsive to groupthink.

      • Just as culture moved from Old Testament to the New Testament, just as Christian cultures moved through the Reformation, Counter-Freformation, and continuing reformations, all cultures, religious and otherwise, are in constant flux. Consider all the varieties of Judaism, Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism.

        Consider political parties. The vast changes in the Republican Party of this country during the past 150+ years is a good example. All our politics changes. Even our economic ways change–as well as their influence on our politics. Consider our Supreme Court’s declarations that money is speech and corporations are people–also that private companies like Hobby Lobby are religious persons.

        Religion is no different than any other ideology of mankind. It has always been influenced by the culture in which it resides, for good and/or for bad. Cultures evolve and all aspects of the cultures, including religion, evolve with them. However, not all aspects of any culture evolve in the same ways or at the same times.

        To be human is to grow, to mature, to change, to evolve. Even in every individual’s own time, that individual will not be the same at the end as at the beginning. “Let me count the ways…” Striving is one way, but there are usually all kinds of offshoots and detours along that one way.

    • Because the point is that a position on the subject claiming “scriptural basis” can go either way depending on how you feel like interpreting it.

      There is nothing more vacuous and unconvincing than an argument claiming, “the Bible says …”.

        • The problem of being unable to have a discussion without making stipulations and assumptions of a given point of view. It forces people to consider something other than “I am always right and you are not”.

          “Bible quote battles” never resolve anything. They make the speaker feel good and support a pretense that God agrees with them, but are never credible to someone who sees the scripture in a different manner. Nobody is ever convinced in such discussions. They merely state their position, hem and haw and walk away. Each thinking the other is doing it wrong.

        • Especially if your opponent is also a follower of Jesus who happens to disagree with you on the subject. Because they can find scriptural basis for their point of view as well.

          It is dishonest to say that Christianity as an entire faith condemns gays. There are a good number of Christian sects/churches which do otherwise. You can claim they are not “real Christians” but that means nothing. Christians say that a lot about sects besides their own. It doesn’t negate their existence or their belief that they are following Jesus.

          • To dispel the charge of dishonesty, let the record show that I did not say “Christianity as an entire faith condemns gays”.

          • Not my point. I did not comment on what your position was. I made no assumptions as to which side of the issue you were on. I was commenting on the process and style used in arguments.

            When one makes an argument that “the bible says …” they are naturally making an assumption for all of Christianity. That the opponent must adopt a given POV as being the only “scripturally accurate” choice. Its the nature of the form used.

            It makes no difference what side of the argument you are on. Its never going to be taken seriously by an opponent because they have their own arguments for the same.

            Its ultimately pointless because one is arguing interpretations which are inherently subjective.

          • Umm, nope. The one area of documented and proven, massive and total FAILURE on the part of the gay activists, is in their various attempts to re-write the Bible to make it do anything other than flat-out oppose homosexual behavior.

            Christian scholars have clearly dissected, debunked and destroyed every gay revisionist attempt to make the Bible approve or be neutral towards ANY homosexual behavior.

            There is NOT ONE positive or even neutral statement in the Bible when the Bible refers to homosexual behavior. The behavior is always characterized a sin, whether you go to the Old Testament or the New Testament. Gay marriage is not even a partial option in the Bible. Not even “civil unions.”

            So exactly how will a third way pan out when there’s only one way, one clear direction, in the Bible?

          • Thank you Doc for proving my point.

            Despite everything you said, Christian churches which recognize and affirm gays exist. Somehow that “failure” has lead to greater expansion of affirming churches than ever before. You don’t like them but your opinion doesn’t change the reality of the situation. They claim to have the Bible and Christ on their side as well.

            No “Christian scholar” has the weight of authority to be taken seriously when it comes to how churches set their doctrines or how Christians sincerely believe. No such scholar can claim to be objective or inherently credible outside one’s own sect/faith. It is always self-serving nonsense. Proof of that is how no scholar has ever been able to create a convincing argument which has led to the dissolution of a given sect which differs from their view. You can say “scholars say …” but no Christian actually feels the need to care.

            All you can do is make dishonest, rank assumptions about Christianity as a whole, as you are doing. Christians who believe otherwise can do the same.

            Of course fundies always think their way is the only one possible. Too bad nobody else in Christendom has gotten the memo. :)

        • Cold Industry

          Despite everything you said, Christian churches which recognize and affirm gays exist.

          Many Christian scholars who affirm homosexuality also admit that the Bible condemns it. A premier scholar like L.T. Johnson is a good case in point.

          You may think all textual arguments (over the Bible?) are ultimately subjective, but that is false on the face of it. There is a reason why the liberal tradition subverts the authority of the text, rather than simply tries to argue their position based on the text. The text is often very clear, and it has hard sayings about our moral (particularly sexual) choices.

    • If a “third way” exists, that way WILL have to deal with the very specific and definite statements in the Bible regarding homosexual behavior. No escape, no sidestepping, no sugarcoating. What does the Bible say on this topic?

      • Obviously a third way is merely a watered down version of the first two. A compromise which leaves nobody happy or resolves anything.

        As to what the Bible says on the topic, it all depends who you ask. As I said with Gary, you are going to make your assumptions and nobody is going to convince you otherwise. So any such discussion on the subject will be a big waste of time :)

        • Larry I appreciate your comments because they force us (at least me) to think a bit more. One thing that makes the discussion difficult is how we view the bible. For example, I believe it is the word of God to be interpreted and obeyed. There is much that can be discussed just from that statement but for this discussion let me just say that I confess there are things that are difficult to understand in the bible that result in different interpretations but there are also things that are clearly taught that clearly have one way to understand it. So when you suggest that interpretation is fundamentally subjective it is understandable that any interpretation, even if the obvious is opposite our interpretation, lends itself to possibility of it being a good interpretation…subjectively speaking I agree that we can make the Bible say whatever wwe want. However, if we believe that though subjectivity is a challenge to interpretation but that God does in fact have an opinion in what he has written then we must be willing to allow our interpretations to be corrected. As one who has been involved in the homosexual lifestyle I understand the great confusion on both sides of the argument but the obvious teaching of Scripture on the subject as changed my mind not the other way around. Again my point is that our view of the bible is fundamentally different and why there will be difficulty in us finding agreement when Scripture itself challenges our preconceived ideas on any topic. I could also say that the Bible should inform how we think about any topic not be changed to meet our assumptions. I do agree that unfortunately happens and I am certain that at times I am guilty. Thanks for letting me jump in the discussion.

          • “However, if we believe that though subjectivity is a challenge to interpretation but that God does in fact have an opinion in what he has written then we must be willing to allow our interpretations to be corrected.”

            Wishful thinking at best.

            My point is nobody ever “corrects” their interpretation. The only time people change their views is with something emotional which affects their faith. It has nothing to do with the strength and correctness of the arguments presented.

            The ability to say one is “scripturally correct” comes from personal opinion, nor authority anyone is compelled to recognized. Whatever is “God’s opinion” is purely a subject of faith. God does not speak to us directly or unambiguously. Personal faith guides the interpretation of the believer.

            What it comes down to is opposing arguments of faith. Neither is capable of compelling the other because faith is the belief in the absence of evidence, not in light of it.

          • A compelling argument Larry Thank you for the reply! And to an extent I would have to agree with you since even the Bible itself calls faith the “assurance of things hoped for and the conviction of things not seen.” How we understand that however, would be different between you and I and yes I would be a fool to not state the obvious. It is an interpretive issue. I would love the opportunity to discuss such issues with you if ever you are compelled to do so with me. The way our discussion is going would go beyond the topic of your blog post so I will refrain from doing that here. My email address is rvsnfd@gmail.com if you feel compelled to continue our discussion. Either way I appreciate your thoughtful response and the topic being discussed openly and with respect. Thank you!

        • As far as I know, the one person who has not yet been directly asked “What does the Bible say?” regarding gay marriage, is Larry.

          I’m not being flippant or insulting or sarcastic this time. I’m being straight and respectful, Larry.

          You sincerely seem to believe that regarding “what the Bible says on the topic, it all depends who you ask.” So I am asking YOU in particular, what the Bible says on this one issue of gay marriage.

          Why am I asking such a request? The answer is simple. IF a “third way” on this gay marriage thing is actually possible, then it should be possible to show people how the iron-clad “anti-gay” scripture can be interpreted WITH BACKUP FROM THE TEXTS THEMSELVES in a pro-gay-marriage manner.

          Can you show or demonstrate this using the Scriptures, Larry?

          • Doc a valid request but I think perhaps we are missing Larry’s point. In suggesting that we can find “proof texts” for any argument I would say in some sense is true. Fundamentally, I believe that what Larry is saying is that we all presuppose certain things when we interpret the Bible. For example, when I read Scripture I believe it is the Word of God, truthful, accurate and understandable. I also presuppose that God, by the Holy Spirit does give clarity especially in the core truths of the gospel. The list can go on but those are a couple of thongs with regard to the Bible that my faith is assured and convicted of. What I believe Larry is communicating is the reality that someone else may have different presuppositions and therefore, whether right or wrong” may interpret differently. With regard to homosexuality the Bible leaves little confusion, however with different presuppositions disagreement and confusion will persist. If that is essentially what Larry is saying to that point I would have to agree. I could in fact come up with a seemingly reasonable argument from the Bible to support homosexuality that I am confident many would accept. However, to do that would mean some core beliefs I have concerning the Bible and God would have to be different. Unfortunately, for many it is and why even the obvious is overlooked. It is only by God’s grace that I am even able to see things the way I do and only by his grace that others core beliefs might change. I am certain Larry would have a field day with that last one :)! Thanks again guys for the discussion.

          • You are better off asking someone who actually believes this stuff. Like the myriad of Christians in “affirming” churches. People who you would call “not real Christians” but would treat your comment with laughing derision.

            A simple search noted the following:
            God, who knows the human heart, testified to them by giving them the Holy Spirit, just as he did to us; and in cleansing their hearts by faith he has made no distinction between them and us. Acts 15:8-9 (NRSV)

            There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus. Galatians 3:28 (NRSV)

            Matthew 22:39 that the second most important commandment is to “love your neighbor as yourself.”

            John 13:35 By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another.

            Jesus never said one word against homosexuality. In all of his teachings, Jesus uplifted actions and attitudes of justice, love, humility, mercy, and compassion. He condemned violence, oppression, cold-heartedness, and social injustice. Never once did Jesus refer to what we call homosexuality as a sin.

            The Bible never mentions or condemns the concept we call same-sex marriage. Although opponents of same-sex marriage claim that lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender unions violate biblical principles, no verses in the Bible explicitly address gay marriage or committed same-sex relationships.

            Those who claim a “biblical definition of marriage” as a model for today ignore various marital arrangements in the Bible that would be illegal or condemned today. The Bible is filled with stories of polygamy and husbands taking concubines. In accordance with the culture and laws of the past, women were often treated like property that could be traded or sold into marriage. Today we understand that these examples of marriage reflect the cultural practices of the time rather than a spiritual model for today.

            Again, the whole concept of a “scripture battle” is ridiculous. Doc you do not have a monopoly on God’s word. Just a massive ego.

          • Cold Industry

            The Bible is filled with stories of polygamy and husbands taking concubines.

            Both of which are ruthlessly mocked by the literary framing of the text. Even Deuteronomy outright condemns the multiplication of wives among the king.

            The idea was Genesis 2 and 3. That was subverted with the first recorded polygamous marriage where the line of evil culminates in Lamech. Polygamy was a mark of distortion and corruption.

      • I have always been taught love the sinner, hate the sin. Christianity is a disciplined life.Once you are a follower you are expected to love those that sin but not condone it or engage yourself.

        In a fully secular environment, this is a very difficult life to live.

        But the criticism from the nonprofit sponsors of the gay agenda pick upon it as a weakness…this “love the sinner” concept to the desired end. That end being to eradicate the concept of homosexuality as sin within doctrine entirely. Make no mistake, this is the goal.

        So its time for churches to defend, but we don’t have to change doctrine to do so. Love the sinner, hate the sin….in society and your own life. It still is the answer. We just have to enforce it and not change ourselves in answer to the emotional accusations of bigot, hater, x_phobe, etc.

        • Its funny how “love the sinner” always entails malicious acts like ostracism, discrimination, denigration, violence and murder. Not very loving. But Christians are remarkably adept at doubletalk.

          In a fully secular life you are not expected to use god as an excuse to engage in harmful immoral behavior. How tough it is when one desperately wants to act badly towards others and still maintain a social sanction. Oh well.

          The problem with complaining about being called a bigot is it is hardly a refutation of such complaints. Merely a sign that one has a thin skin. If one does not want to be called one, it is better not to act like one.

          • “Its funny how ‘love the sinner’ always entails malicious acts like ostracism, discrimination, denigration, violence and murder.”

            It was Lles Nats himself who once opined at this very site that “people who pack fudge in the name of love should be castrated and plugged permanently.”

            Of course, he has apparently gone back and clicked “report abuse” on his own comment so it can no longer be read. I guess he does possess some level of self-awareness.

          • I seem to recall a certain verse in Leviticus that commands their execution, a direct order from God to Moses in fact.

            But I forgot, that part doesn’t apply to you anymore, because you don’t want it too.

            I’ve read the Bible four times in two different languages. I’m not a theologian but I know what’s in it.

          • Cold Industry

            I seem to recall a certain verse in Leviticus that commands their execution, a direct order from God to Moses in fact.

            But I forgot, that part doesn’t apply to you anymore, because you don’t want it too.

            It never applied to me. As a gentile, I was not born into the ancient Israeli Mosaic covenant–which is now defunct anyway. The only people who think such verses strictly apply to modern political structures are a couple of (rare) theonomists. The overwhelming majority of Christian scholars view the Old Testament as almost completely inapplicable (the Anabaptist tradition, which is very strong in the West) or as a (weak?) paradigm for church ethics and witnessing, and perhaps a guide for informing some government ethics. All this cashes out to a practice of ethics that is nowhere near what the Levitical laws demanded.

            So drop the crystal ball about motives. Wild speculation as to why people don’t follow the Old Testament levitical laws would be better replaced with a working knowledge of the relevant scholarship.

        • Cold Industry

          And now it should be fairly clear that your claim is not supported by the available evidence: The assertion:

          It clearly says you should be rounding up the LGBT community and executing them.

          Cannot be derived from:

          I seem to recall a certain verse in Leviticus that commands their execution, a direct order from God to Moses in fact.

          Since the section in Leviticus is historically constrained, it requires an additional proposition (or likely several) to conclude that this law, which was given to ancient Israel under a broader covenant relationship, should now apply to Christians everywhere. It’s really quite difficult to see how you’d get there.

          • It’s very telling that you scold me for presuming your motives, while below you don’t hesitate to inform me that my criticism of the ‘third way’ comes from a motive to try and insult Christians by calling them nasty names because I’m clearly a bigot who can’t forgive people who hurt him.

            It must be very nice to not have to hold yourself to the same standard you demand of others.

          • Cold Industry

            It’s very telling that you scold me for presuming your motives, while below you don’t hesitate to inform me that my criticism of the ‘third way’ comes from a motive to try and insult Christians by calling them nasty names because I’m clearly a bigot who can’t forgive people who hurt him.

            It must be very nice to not have to hold yourself to the same standard you demand of others.

            Your attempt at charging me with hypocrisy would almost be interesting had you made a decent case.

            Your motives are rather clear–you have a long history of comments attesting to them. You, on the other hand, have only this conversation by which to evaluate my motives for obeying (or not obeying) the levitical laws, and you made your dishonest and unfounded assumption that I dismissed the law merely because I don’t like it without any prior knowledge of my position. Your deflection to hypocrisy in the face of refutation, instead of acknowledgement of a knowledge deficit on your part or a reformulation of your currently specious argument, is, as you say, “very telling.”

            Your inability to logically reason is (sadly) rather indicative of many Internet atheists. But I do appreciate the public reminder that there is no correlation between atheism and intelligence.

    • Simple. Vastly different culture. Even the culture of Jesus’ time was vastly different than the cultures in which the various Old Testament writings were variously done.

      Biblical writings reflect the attitudes of their authors, not of any God. Attempts to attribute human writings to Godly inspiration is even more presumptuous than the mythological claims of gods themselves.

  4. It is no accident that the extremists in the church, from Mohler on the right to the justice advocates on the left, argue viciously that no third way is possible. The increasing interest in the third way conversation indicates it may not be so simple as those at both ends of the spectrum would desire. At Via Media Methodists, we are seeking a third way for United Methodists, and we’d be happy to invite others along on the journey. Another good resource is the interview with Allan Bevere on the WesleyCast podcast on iTunes.

  5. There need be no third way. There should only be one way, the same way for all. “I am the way, the truth, and the life.” That is what was meant by all the preaching attributed to Jesus. One, simple, honest way.

    Unfortunately, more and more since the claimed time of Jesus, all kinds of detours have been taken from the good, single, and simple ways that he taught. The history of christianity is as full of evil as any other religion. Sadly, few ideologies compare with religion for its hypocrisy and evil practices.

  6. The Great God Pan

    “[G]enerous spaciousness is recognized as the narrow path of humbly humanizing the other through intentional listening…”

    Buzzword salad! What does it mean in practical terms with regard to the issue of homosexuality and Christianity? Nobody knows! But it will be catnip to the “faitheist” and “theologically liberal” crowds who dig charlatans like Karen “God is the God behind God” Armstrong.

    • www.youtube.com/watch?v=gEPmA3USJdI

      Living easy, living free
      Season ticket on a one-way ride
      Asking nothing, leave me be
      Taking everything in my stride
      Don’t need reason, don’t need rhyme
      Ain’t nothing I would rather do
      Going down, party time
      My friends are gonna be there too

      I’m on the highway to hell

      No stop signs, speed limit
      Nobody’s gonna slow me down
      Like a wheel, gonna spin it
      Nobody’s gonna mess me round
      Hey Satan, paid my dues
      Playing in a rocking band
      Hey Momma, look at me
      I’m on my way to the promised land

      I’m on the highway to hell
      (Don’t stop me)

      And I’m going down, all the way down
      I’m on the highway to hell

      • No more AC DC for me! I burned most of my secular records when I got Born Again. Nowadays I just listen to praise music and the occasional patriotic rock or country western song, like Toby Kieth and Three Doors Down. And my extensive collection of Sun Ra LPs.

  7. Within a church I think it would take a pretty strong “don’t ask don’t tell” policy. They do seem to exist though. I would offer the Catholic Church’s stance on birth control as an example. I suppose those churches that would be ok with two best friends of the same sex building a life together just not having sex or calling it marriage might be able to get along with same-sex couples attending but it would require joint self restraint and omissions.

    I think the more likely “3rd way” is to look at the existing “battle ground” as the most radical on each side is aiming to drive the other to live completely behind closed doors. The more realistic on each side can recognize that for that to happen it would take an environment like Germany in the 20s. Which would turn out poorly for both sides. The needed 3rd way is a comprise from each side much like what occurs between faiths. Polite disagreement but the freedom to exist in a public manner and receive goods and services. While I don’t believe discrimination is good I do believe allowing a degree of it might be the best middle road. If a business can show that a group has at least two other sources for an equivalent good or service the 3rd provider may choose to refuse service to a group it has issue with but must do so in a manner so all customers are aware. In other words if I don’t want to serve the Amish in my burger place and I show that there are two burger places close to me and post it with my signs and adds I could do it. However, if I’m the only burger place in town I have to serve everyone.

  8. Her third way is simply another way of calling for humility and humanity in the dialogue. It is not about a third way of looking at the issues but rather a different way of discussing them. I continually try to promote this in all political and religious discussions especially.

    But the fact of the matter is that most evangelical Christians do not have the ability or desire to do this.This has been proven to me afresh over and over again the past few weeks where my entire Christian faith has been slandered, impugned and denied because I have a different view of the Bible than they do.

    To them accepting homosexuality is like debating and/or accepting adultrey or murder or robbery. The problem I have with them is not so much their views as the loveless way they hold and present them. I know a few notable exceptions thankfully.

    • Larry M: Nothing new about that. There have always been all kinds of ways, good and bad, right and wrong, at looking at everything. Also, religious and scientific ways. Religious and sociological ways. Religious and historical ways. Mythological and latest knowledgeable ways.

      No need to count the ways. Just face the facts. Use accumulated knowledge. Be honest.

      • I am glad that there us is nothing new about discussing ideas with deep humility and great humanity for you but that has seldom ever been my experience.

      • And that’s why, when people suggest that Bible texts are so subjective and fuzzy that “regarding what the Bible says on the (gay marriage) topic, it all depends who you ask,” my next response is usually to ask the person who just said it, to simply DEMONSTRATE that claim themselves.

        It’s no more than simply asking a person to “be honest”, as you put it, and support their claim.

        I understand the claim that different presuppositions may produce different interpretations. I’m just asking the person to PROVE their particular claim on the Bible topic at hand, using the Bible texts that address that topic, IF that specific claim is actually true.

        See, my position is that the Bible is NOT fuzzy on issues like salvation or homosexuality. It’s not a Zen koan where just about ANY interpretation, even rationally contradictory interpretations, will fit the bill.

        My position is that interpretations that ignore, negate or deny the actual wording of the text and context, are just plain wrong. Can’t get away with stuff like that.

        • And here’s something else that cannot be gotten away with. Check out this one paragraph:

          “The Bible never mentions or condemns the concept we call same-sex marriage. Although opponents of same-sex marriage claim that lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender unions violate biblical principles, no verses in the Bible explicitly address gay marriage or committed same-sex relationships.”

          That one paragraph is rationally debunked and destroyed (via inference), REGARDLESS of whether one’s chosen presuppositions are “Atheist” or “Christian”, simply by quoting 1 Cor. 6:9-11. Take a look.

          “9 Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived. Neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor homosexuals, nor sodomites,

          “10 nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners will inherit the kingdom of God.

          “11 And such were some of you. But you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus and by the Spirit of our God.”

          And there you go. Case closed.

          • Doc, the Bible does not refer to gays or gay marriage as we know it today. You have a bunch of badly quoted lines, most of which refer to idolatorous rites and one story about treating strangers badly.

            1 Cor. 6:9-11 refers to people who use catamite slaves or point to poor translation. Other translations do not use such phrases.
            In the link below is an entire article eviscerating your “compelling evidence”.
            http://www.wouldjesusdiscriminate.org/biblical_evidence/no_fems_no_fairies.html

            However we do have evidence that:
            Jesus affirmed a gay couple. Matthew 8:5-13
            Ruth loved Naomi as Adam loved Eve. Genesis 2:24, Ruth 1:14
            David loved Jonathan more than women. II Samuel 1:26

            There you go. Triable issues of fact exist. Judgment is not awarded to either side. Must wait for a jury trial.

            Your position is based on making interpretations that satisfy your bigotry. Somehow in all your blather the whole notion of Jesus’s teachings to love thy neighbor and noticing the planks before one are completely ignored in favor of seeking social sanction for one’s hatred. There is no humanity, nor morality and certainly nothing Christ-like in your Christianity. This is why there are many who call themselves Christian who disagree with your nonsense. As evidenced by this article.

            You would like to think you speak for all of Christendom, but it is simply not true.

          • “1 Cor. 6:9-11 refers to people who use catamite slaves or point to poor translation.”

            We’re still waiting for your historical evidence that this and similar passages were ever understood in this way.

          • Its called context Shawnie. There are numerous admonishments about following polytheistic rites which involve abuse of people throughout the Bible. Plus there is no context of consensual gay couples in the Bible. That is merely shoehorning the text to meet a more modern situation.

            You might want to check the link I left above. Or not. You probably disagree with the interpretations given just as I disagreed with Doc’s. My point is that your interpretation doesn’t carry any more weight then others. You just like to think you do. The fact that Christian churches exist which do not take your bigoted tone on the subject is proof enough of that.

          • So no, no evidence. Oh well.

            “My point is that your interpretation doesn’t carry any more weight then others. You just like to think you do. The fact that Christian churches exist which do not take your bigoted tone on the subject is proof enough of that.”

            Does the fact that people view the Constitution differently mean that every interpretation is valid? I think not. To arrive at the correct interpretation of the Constitution we examine the writings of the framers and those who have interpreted it along the way. The Torah, being a work of law from which the key scriptures on this subject come, works much the same. In order to understand what its provisions meant to Jesus and His followers and listeners we look to ancient Jewish commentary upon the scriptures from that time. They all agree, and agreement continued up until the last generation. If anyone is trying to shoehorm the text into modern situations (or vice versa, to be more precise) its the gay apologists.

            “Plus there is no context of consensual gay couples in the Bible.”

            There is in rabbinic commentary to the Torah dating from the early christian era. All extremely negative, of course.

  9. I suspect a sociological study of clergy which included careful interrogation of subjects would reveal that the vast majority have no interest in expositions on topics metaphysical and moral, that people who would are not attracted to contemporary clerical life, that those who are are weeded out at various points ‘ere ordination, that those ordained are harassed by their ecclesiastical superiors or by their parishioners and give up. You’re left with characters of the sort described by V.S. Naipaul in Guerillas: “…he had no important skills…an organizer of boys clubs”.

    A “middle way” may be incoherent, but you’re presuming the subjects have any desire to be coherent to begin with; what they need from their perspective is some mix of humbug which will allow them to get on with their ministry trade with a minimum of friction.

  10. spiritubrianus

    This is a most promising approach because it comes from someone from a relatively conservative, theological position (‘eclectic Calvinist’). I hope Wendy is correct here. Preliminary indications are not encouraging. In my own Anglican Communion, the opposing forces are pretty dug in even though moderate voices are encouraging the ‘listening’ advocated by Wendy. I have no doubt change will come slowly, very slowly in many cases. The problem is that many gay people and their straight allies have given up on the Church and moved on toward a post sectarian culture. All studies indicate that organized religion is increasingly in decline often as a result of the gay inclusion issue. This is true especially among young people both straight and gay. The church doesn’t have a lot of time here. And in some instances, the conversations within churches have not even begun. We need to have hope, but the clock’s hands are getting close to midnight.

  11. Is there a third way on the ‘gay issue?’

    You don’t. It’s an impossibility. You merely lie to yourself that your continued bigotry is all in Christian love. If you believe that homosexuality is a sin, then you believe that the lives, loves, and families of LGBT people are wrong in the sight of your god and should be ended in order to leave a moral life. Let that sink in. You believe people should reject their loved ones and abandon their families because you think they’re ‘sinful.’ And you have the gall and the arrogance to pretend that you can call that ‘love’ and ‘morality.

    That is not love and there is no way to properly pass this off as love, as much as you might repeat the mantra that you ‘love the sinner and hate the sin.’ That would be like telling me that you love me but you hate my Romani ethnicity, or my Irish nationality. You can’t just love a part of me. That’s not love, it’s grudging toleration at best.

    The ‘third way on homosexuality’ is worth less than the price of peas in Persepolis. Christians have terrorised LGBT people for hundreds of years, and the recent decades have been no less brutal. To say that there’s a ‘third way,’ that you can still cling to your bigotry against LGBT people while showing them ‘Christian love’ is insulting, degrading and impossible. It’s nothing more than a PR campaign to whitewash the stained walls of the churches and very few of us are going to be taken in by it.

    • Cold Industry

      The shorter you:

      Christians hold a different set of moral values than I do, so I will call them nasty names and assume they are dishonest even though I don’t have any evidence to prove as much. But I have a lot of bluff and bluster and I think with enough condescending rhetoric I can get away with equivocating on the term “love” and claiming sexual orientation is analogous to race. I’ll also make some sweeping claims about history and world perception even though my views on this issue are clearly driven by emotion, not reason or facts.

      • “Christians hold a different set of moral values than I do, so I will call them nasty names”

        Yes, Christians hold a different set of morals than I do. But I never once called Christians any foul or nasty names in my comment. You start out with a lie. Doesn’t bode well for the rest of your comment.

        “and claiming sexual orientation is analogous to race.”

        I did no such thing. I said that the discrimination or judgement of an individual based on these traits are are analogous. Another lie.

        “I’ll also make some sweeping claims about history and world perception even though my views on this issue are clearly driven by emotion, not reason or facts.”

        I could give you a long and detailed treatise on the efforts of Christian organisations to discriminate against LGBT people throughout the 20th Century, including Prop 6, blocking funding for AIDS relief, the Evangelical influence in Uganda, DADT, the responses to murders of LGBT people by Christians, and much more. But seeing as how you cannot summarise my position without lying through your teeth, it’s clear that it is frankly not worth my time.

        • Cold Industry

          Yes, Christians hold a different set of morals than I do.

          A set of morals you don’t even seek to justify, rendering your comment, at best, an exercise in self-reflection.

          But I never once called Christians any foul or nasty names in my comment. You start out with a lie.

          Charges of bigotry, arrogance, gall, etc.. Your condescending and dismissive rhetoric is insulting to Christians in every way–and you obviously intended it that way. It is the intellectual equivalent of name-calling. So, yes, try to squirm out by claiming what you’re doing is something else.

          I did no such thing. I said that the discrimination or judgement of an individual based on these traits are are analogous.

          Of course you did. That was the whole purpose of your analogy. It’s pretty clear who is being deceptive.

          Another lie.

          And, yes, as usual, you impute motives for which you have no evidence. Good luck proving these are “lies.” Maybe if you spent less time being a prejudiced bigot and more time defending your sweeping assertions about the nature of love and Christian history you’d be taken more seriously.

          But seeing as how you cannot summarise my position without lying through your teeth, it’s clear that it is frankly not worth my time.

          In other words, you’re all bark and no bite.

          I don’t blame you. I wouldn’t want to defend the claims you’ve made in this thread either.

    • Cold Industry

      And, really, your diatribe is hardly compelling. It assumes a certain Western view of sexuality and individualism that is shared by only a small portion of the world. Yet you argue in such a way as to suggest that your negative opinion alone should change Christian attempts to persuade people against following the gay lifestyle. Sorry, but that seems like an effort “very few of us are going to be taken in by.”

      The good news is that, on atheism, in 70 years we’ll both be dead and everything we ever did will be completely meaningless. All that anger you feel right now? It’s just a bunch of chemicals rushing through your brain, without ultimate purpose, completely unconnected to any objective ideal of justice. Such is morality: a convenient social construct used to promote fitness.

      That is the real crisis of atheism. You can’t ever have meaningful justice on the issues you care most deeply about. Evil people oppress and persecute, and it looks increasingly likely that organized (particularly Islamic) religion will continue to imprison, torture and execute those in the gay community. The Islamic rulers in particular will get away with such measures and then they will die as they lived throughout their time on our dirty tennis ball: rich and happy, even celebrated. At least on Christianity the evil get their just deserts in hell.

      I suppose I’d be as angry as you if I didn’t have ultimate hope in justice either. The world you want will never come to pass.

    • The dishonesty of this response is instructive. It presumes that violence against gays by some who profess to be “Christian” is the Christian response, generalizing as freely and maliciously as the most ardent bigot. It presumes that there is only one kind of love and that Christian objection to a certain kind of sexual love is an objection to all kinds of love. It also presumes a supreme confidence that the concerns of Christians, professed in love regarding the destructiveness of sin, are somehow worthless, simply because the writer doesn’t care to regard them with any reflection or seriousness.

      It’s an uncharitable argument that can add little to this serious conversation beyond a clear picture of the antipathy Irish Atheist has for people of faith.

      • Cold Industry

        Thanks, ME. You have done a good job articulating the faulty (and frankly bigoted) assumptions driving Irish Atheist’s response.

        He is a textbook case of what happens when bitterness destroys a person’s perspective on the world. Whatever awful events he suffered at the hands of a few professed Christians, his inability to forgive those who wronged him has produced, as it always does, a prejudiced suspicion of anyone associated with the Christian label. It is much like a white man who think all blacks must be criminals, simply because he was mugged in the street by one ten years ago.

        • Do not presume to know what has happened in my life or what Christians have done to me. Christians make up the majority of my family and my homeland. I despise your theology and your institutions and make no apologies for it but individual Christians I take on a case-by-case basis.

          And your complete dishonesty in smearing my words and character is a testament on your morality and character, not mine.

          • Cold Industry

            It’s always amusing when atheists demand honesty. On atheism, there’s no reason anyone should be consistently honest with anyone else. Lying, especially small exaggerations and distortions, can be a great survival tool that enriches the self/tribe and aids in the propagation of genes–just look at politics. And, really, why does a temporarily ambulatory bag of chemicals deserve to be treated with honesty?

            I don’t presume anything that can’t be reasonably deduced or inferred from your writings. You have a long history of commenting on religious sites and you have a public blog; this isn’t the first time I’ve read what you’ve written.

  12. The “third way” presented here doesn’t appear to be a third way at all. It’s just the progressive position with space carved out for traditionalists to be tolerated. It ignores a couple of important facts:

    1. Respectfulness and love should be the response of Christians on either side. We traditionalists have often tried to emphasize that our position on this issue is and should not be any different than the way we regard other sins. We hold our position because of what the Scriptures say sin does to people, and we hold it in the realization that we are all sinners.

    2. Homosexuality either is or is not sin. A third way may apply to how congregations respond to civil differences, but a church must address such important issues as a matter of clarity and doctrine, especially because they involve potential familial relationships and church recognition. Carving out space for differences within a congregation or denomination may work for a weaker brother issue but not for issues where there is such a clear doctrinal break and a clear historical doctrine on one side of the issue.

    3. The clarity of Scripture on issues of sexuality in the Bible (despite Larry and others’ attempts to muddy the waters by confusing agape, eros, and other terms for love) mean that progressive liberty in scriptural interpretation cannot be restricted to this issue. The kinds of arguments made to justify (or from the traditionalist perspective, rationalize) gay marriage and homosexual relationships are highly contextual and can readily be applied to other sins (including those on which the Scriptures are less direct but are directly proscribed in our society).

    The spirit of love behind such third way attempts is admirable, but it must be matched by the reason to enable it to apply in the circumstances in which it exists. That is not the case here. Our differences should remain in love, but we must also be true to our love for those who are in bondage to sin and our faith in God’s Word.

  13. Thanks for interviewing Wendy VanderWal-Gritter. I’ve read her book and it’s amazing!

    While I see many challenges with the third way in a church context, I have no doubts about generous spaciousness — if we all acted towards one another with generous spaciousness as our posture, the world would be a better place and the people of the world would see the love of Jesus reflected in those of us who are Christians rather than having the current perception of hatred which in many cases is regrettably accurate.

  14. I really do think that Christian have a responsibility to go after the homosexual and gay communities. Many churches have embraces this concept and are reach many people that would not otherwise come to Christ. But we can do this at the cost of sound doctrine. The church refuses to embrace murders at the cost doctrine, thieves at the cost of doctrine, Idolators at the cost of doctrine and we can embrace homosexuals at the cost of doctrine.

    We must embrace them, love them, teach them, but never at the cost of what is the core beliefs of the church.

  15. For the longest time, I was conflicted by my sexuality and my faith, until I came to the realization that my attraction to men could not be cured or simply prayed away. I also realized that while dogma and scripture will always be used as a weapon to marginalize a vulnerable group, there are those who look beyond what is written and simply choose to love their son, neighbor, or friend no matter what their orientation.

    Also, to completely define the character of the Creator of the universe to a few thousand pages and say “This is authoritative” is just outlandish. God’s character/nature is beyond our comprehension. Nowadays, I live in peace knowing that God my creator is a limitless loving God who’s has been written about but not entirely understood due to our finite perceptions.

  16. Scott Johnson

    To quote the Farmer in Napoleon Dynamite “I don’t understand a word you just said.”

    Here is the truth. It is in the nature of fallen humanity to want and to do all manner of things which do not commend us to God, which, in fact, in the case of same sex attraction, quite literally miss the mark.

    I have wanted to murder, have never done so. I have wanted to lie, cheat and steal and have done these things over and over again.

    Now, if I struggle with the desire to lie, for example, and am generally victorious by God’s grace and mostly tell the truth, then I expect to be loved by the Body. If, on the other hand, I am mostly defeated and lie quite a lot, I will continue to expect to keep that love, but I will NOT expect to keep my pastorate, or my Sunday school class or my Bible study.

    Finally, whether I lie or not, If I say that God doesn’t actually disapprove of lying, then you had better be concerned about the genuineness of my relationship with the Lord.

    One might wonder whether I were mentally unbalanced or perhaps merely ignorant of the plain teaching of scripture.

    If I have no relationship with God, if I am unbalanced, if I am this deeply ignorant, I have no business preaching, teaching or leading in any capacity.

    So let the strugglers come. Let them love each other as Christ loved the church, and let us thoroughly love them. Let them pastor, teach, lead, while we help them lead holy lives, just like any other struggling sinner.

    But we have no fellowship with givers-in and revisionists.

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    […] Jonathan Merritt interviews Wendy VanderWal Gritter about whether a third way is possible for Christians in the controversy over gay and lesbian issues. Wendy explains what she means by “generous spaciousness” — which also happens to be the title of her new book: “In generous spaciousness, I choose to listen deeply to the other, expecting to encounter God in our conversation. With generous spaciousness, I am seeking to experience a sense of community with those with whom I disagree. That means I intentionally contribute to an ethos of mutual respect. True respect doesn’t whitewash differences as if they don’t matter. But in generous spaciousness I allow myself to wonder if there might be more for me to learn and discover as I build relationship with the one who sees things differently than I do.” Found here: A third way for Christians on the ‘gay issue?’ […]

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