I chose curiosity.
When someone close to me came out, she was anxious about the reaction of her family. My go-to response to all personal revelations is to assure each person that I will always love them, no matter what. I believe this gut reaction was cultivated in me by my parents, who have demonstrated deep and unconditional love for all six of their children, Runaway Bunny style. So at least I know enough not to evaluate, or judge, as much as I can help it.
But loving is not enough. We can do that even while considering someone’s orientation to be morally wrong, as in “hate the sin, love the sinner.” Ugh. I doubt that anyone feels loved under that banner, but we can declare our love with that in mind, confident that our righteousness is intact, and go on our merry way while leaving the “loved one” confused and shamed.
This time, because I do love the person who came out, I decided to investigate. My curiosity was stimulated by the fact that people with great integrity in spiritual matters have quietly expressed affirmation of an orientation that is considered a sin by many people in my denomination, and in my circle of friends and family. Opposite opinions. How can that be? I respect people with contrasting views. They all appear to be conscientious followers of Jesus. This time I chose not to reflexively defend a position, but to explore the various positions instead.
Knowing for the first time that somebody I love is gay forced me to consider what this sin business is all about, and thus began a quest. The primary resource is the Bible, and so began some serious study. It didn’t take long before I realized that it not only matters what the Bible says and does not say about homosexuality, it matters even more that we understand the purpose of the Bible itself.
Ah, there’s the rub. The fulcrum on which the entire debate rests. I won’t go into the specifics of hermeneutical choices here. It is not something that can be summarized for convenient perusal. Cliffs Notes on how to interpret the Bible should not be allowed, especially when we are exploring references relevant to personal identity.
Instead I’ll focus on the necessity of making a choice. My curiosity was not satisfied in the way a scientist might reach a conclusion about the patterns within cancer cells, for example. The exercise of biblical study requires conscious choices about how the texts will be regarded. You have to decide how much weight you will give to historical context, for example. You have to select the translation of the ancient text that you consider most faithful. Choices, choices. Choices take a lot more time than most people are willing to spend.
Nevertheless I sought helpful resources and settled in to do a lot of reading. In the process of studying the Bible itself, I keep running across what seems like a critical point that seems most clear in the gospels. It is the choice about one’s posture: to be on the defense, or to be curious.
Jesus challenged the defensive posture of the Pharisees. Their aim was to maintain purity as God’s chosen ones, and thus to condemn every action that broke the purity codes, or threatened to do so. The code had to be amended many times in order to ensure absolute purity, and thus chosenness. One could not associate with anyone who was unclean. The Pharisees, in their attempts to honor the one true God of Israel, ended up promoting a protective stance which is inherently a fearful one.
Jesus railed against their posture, because protecting themselves entailed treating others with contempt at worst, and neglect at best. They had to be exclusive in order to avoid sin. They could not attend to the spirit of the law–to love God and neighbor–because they could not come close to anyone who needed love. They could not cultivate in themselves the compassion Jesus said was at the heart of the law.
And compassion is embodied in Jesus, at every turn. What strikes me is that curiosity is necessary in showing compassion. Jesus asked people what they wanted of him. He encouraged them to describe what was broken. He asked his disciples what people thought of him. He asked permission to heal. Sometimes he healed the soul when physical healing was all that was requested, because he took the time to look deeper into their dis-ease.
And so I have concluded for now that a protective, defensive posture is fertile ground for sin. It cultivates exclusion, judgment, arrogance, and callousness. It seeks to ensure one’s personal beliefs are the correct ones in a set of multiple choice questions. It gives the illusion that we can be right about our interpretive choices, and thus others must be wrong. It refuses to acknowledge that choices have been made. And so begin the lessons in Self-Righteousness 101(self-ordered righteousness).
If instead we are curious about what God is doing in the Scriptures and in the world around us, we have the capacity for compassion. We can wonder how God has ordered the world. We can appreciate diversity instead of fearing it. We can see the suffering and enter it with others, offering ourselves as fellow seekers of healing and hope.
If I can maintain curiosity and avoid defensiveness, my quest may never be fully satisfied intellectually. But satisfaction isn’t the point. Love is the point, and that is found not in books or ideas. It is found in the person of Jesus Christ, and in the church that he said is his very body. It is the source not for answers, but with unlimited potential for compassion and love.