Essay

Not that there’s anything wrong with that…

By July 6, 2012 2 Comments
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Jerry: We’re not gay!… not that there’s anything wrong with that.
George:  No, of course not.
Jerry:  I mean it’s fine if that’s who you are.
George:  Absolutely!
Jerry:  I mean I have many gay friends. 
George:  My father’s gay.

The above dialogue is from an episode of Seinfeld in which an NYU reporter mistakenly thinks Jerry and George are gay lovers.  When Jerry figures out there has been a misunderstanding he and George quickly try to convince the reporter that they are not gay with an important qualification – “not that there’s anything wrong with that.”  The beauty of comedy is that, when done well, it is able to explore the nooks and crannies of very sensitive issues. Not only did this episode take on the issue of homophobia, but it also poked fun of what was once called “political correctness.”  Clearly the characters take issue with someone thinking they are gay, which is amplified by the way they qualify their response – there’s nothing wrong with someone ELSE being gay, but of course I’m not gay! Interesting tid bit – this episode was well received by the gay and lesbian community, even winning a GLAAD award in 1994 for Outstanding Comedy Episode.

Over the years I’ve had a number of high school and college students talk to me about issues regarding sexual orientation.  I realize that Christian communities of the Reformed persuasion have historically not been safe places for such conversations.  I’ve tried my best to help students negotiate a variety of issues – from family relationships, to friendships, to biblical and theological questions, to church issues. I’ve pushed against legalistic attitudes that seem to forget the fundamental proclamation of the gospel is grace and love.  I often wonder when the homosexual issue will cease to be used as the litmus test for both sides of the debate. While some use it as a test of one’s true orthodoxy, others use it as an indicator of one’s “tolerance” – one’s cultural “with-it-ness.” What’s often overlooked is a third way – the way of love. Love does not put doctrinal or moral purity ahead of the well being of the person next to us in the pew or the neighbor we encounter in our everyday experience.  But neither does love endorse a form of tolerance that doesn’t care what people do – such tolerance becomes an act of violence as we divest ourselves of all responsibility for the other. What is often missing in the discussion of whether the church should endorse gay marriage is the deeper question of the moral responsibility of choosing to be married.  On the one side people assume that as long as it’s a male and female the moral requirement for marriage is satisfied.  Yet, as most married people know, the decision to marry, and the ensuing commitment to that decision, is difficult and complex.  What does it mean to stand before God and others and make covenantal promises to each other?  If only marriage were about remaining passionately attracted to each other for life, never mind that many Christian marriages do not end well. On the other side there can be a sense that because two gay people want to get married they should be allowed to do so.  While I know the fundamental issues are about justice and discrimination, the issues discussed above remain – just because two people can get married doesn’t mean they should.

I know churches and institutions have to make decisions – they have to hold large meetings with long discussions that establish policies and rules. I’m not opposed to this process as long as we recognize that these systems and rules in no way let us off the hook.  We are all called to the way of love, which means we are morally responsible for the way we treat our neighbor. Fundamentalist rhetoric and liberal ideology are both the easy way out. As the Christian community we encounter particular human begins living in particular situations – people in whom Jesus Christ meets and greets us, calling us to a repsonse of love and charity.

The more I think about it – it’s pretty stupid of me to think a person can address such issues in 800 words or less.  But, hey – I’m not even a member of the RCA… not that there’s anything wrong with that.  

Jason Lief

Dr. Jason Lief teaches courses in Christian education and youth ministry. A Northwestern College graduate, he served as the chaplain for Pella (Iowa) Christian High School while earning a master’s degree in theology from Wheaton College Graduate School. He also completed a doctorate in practical theology from Luther Seminary. He previously taught theology and youth ministry at Dordt College for 10 years. Dr. Lief is the author of “Poetic Youth Ministry: Loving Young People by Learning to Let Them Go” and "Christianity and Heavy Metal as Impure Sacred Within the Secular West: Transgressing the Sacred.”

2 Comments

  • Tony says:

    "While some use it as a test of one's true orthodoxy, others use it as an indicator of one's "tolerance" "

    I am always interested to challenge ones understanding of tolerance base on their orthodoxy. I see orthodoxy as the foundation that allows the "Christian" to be tolerant. But then there is the question of a modern definition of tolerance, because it has changed over time. We are now expected to tolerant ones beliefs, thus making them just as true as my beliefs. This is a change from classic tolerance, which said I tolerate you despite your belief.

  • Grace says:

    Ah…

    Be assured that people who are tolerated will never mistake that for love.

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