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"Clarity & Queer Christianity" Transcript
Season 2, Episode 6
[An acoustic guitar softly plays six notes, the first three ascending and the last three descending — F#, B, F#, E, D#, B — with a keyboard pad playing the note B in the background. Both fade out as Jonathan Walton says “This is a KTF Press podcast.”]
Jonathan Walton: This is a KTF Press podcast.
I am not an overseer, right? Like the faith that, we are leaving colonized faith. Just because I am a straight man in a church does not make me the overseer for your sexuality, and then you have to come and get approval from me to function on this plantation. That's not how that works.
Suzie Lahoud: It assumes the hierarchy.
Jonathan Walton: Yeah. We're all sheep, right? So I'm not going to buy into the fact that I'm on a horse overseeing the cotton you’re picking. That's not my role.
[The song “Citizens” by Jon Guerra fades in. Lyrics: “I need to know there is justice/That it will roll in abundance/ And that you’re building a city/ Where we arrive as immigrants/ And you call us citizens/ And you welcome us as children home.” The song fades out.]
Jonathan Walton: Welcome to Shake the Dust: Leaving colonized faith for the Kingdom of God. I am Jonathan Walton, here with Suzie Lahoud and Sy Hoekstra.
Sy Hoekstra: Today, we're going to be talking about LGBTQ Christians in the church, queer people in leadership in churches and at KTF Press. We're talking about clarity as well.
Before we get started with all that, as always, a reminder. If you like what we do at this show, or at KTF Press in general, please go to ktfpress.com and consider subscribing as a monthly or an annual subscriber. That gets you the bonus episodes of this show. That gets you our weekly newsletter, where the three of us give you recommendations on all different kinds of media as you are leaving colonized faith for the kingdom of God. It supports everything else we do, the books that we're working on, the transcribing of this show, all of our just monthly expenses, everything.
We really, really appreciate our supporters and actually could not be doing this without them. And we would love for more people to come on board so we can continue doing what we're doing and expand what we're doing. We're going to talk about why we're having this conversation in a minute, but since so many LGBTQ Christians are constantly calling for clarity from people who are leaders or are out talking about, I'm not considering myself a major leader in the Christian world [laughs], but people who are out in public talking about things to do with justice, or to do with, anything really to do with Christianity.
So we are jumping right in, and we're going to talk about what we individually, the three of us, believe about whether or not the Bible is affirming of same sex or queer relationships. And then what KTF is, what our stance is on leadership for queer people who are in queer relationships. I'll just say right now we're for it [laughs], but we'll get into why and the details of why we're for it later. But as for us personally, the word “affirming,” just to make sure everybody knows, it just means that you believe that the Bible or that theology says that basically God is affirming of same sex relationships. That's what the word affirming means. That it's not a sin.
So I will just say Suzie and I are both not exactly sure about where we stand on whether or not the Bible's affirming of queer relationships, and Jonathan is not affirming, believes that the Bible is not affirming of queer relationships. Us as a company, we are totally affirming of queer people in church leadership. Obviously, if we were hiring anyone at KTF Press, that would be the case as well. We have published people, not on this specific subject, but we have published people on other subjects who personally hold views on either side of this issue and we will continue to do so. And as always in what we do, we are going to continue in these conversations to center and elevate the voices of the marginalized, which in this case are actual queer Christians themselves.
Next week we're going to have an interview with Kai Ngu, who's one of the founders of Church Clarity, among other things. Part of what they get into is this notion of clarity is queer Christians constantly saying, “We do not want to hear people beating around the bush or contextualizing, or trying to deceive us into thinking that you're affirming of our whole lives, only to find out that you think that we are sinners later.” This whole deceptive practice that a lot of Christians engage in. So we're trying to be straightforward right now, just tell you what we think. That's why I just spoke for everyone so we can just get that clearly out there and we can all… basically queer Christians want everyone to own what they believe... No, not all. I can't speak for all, obviously. Not a monolith, but this is what a lot of people, what we have been hearing a lot from the queer Christian community.
So, like I said, we are completely affirming of queer people in leadership, including at KTF Press, which is both because we think that's how the church should operate, and we will explain why in a minute. I should also note that we're not a religious non-profit. This isn't a church. This isn't a parachurch ministry. This is an LLC, so the same non-discrimination laws apply to us that apply to everybody else, every other company at least. And at least for the time being, who the heck knows what the Supreme Court is going to do. But anyways, let's just dive right into it with the three of us. Why is it that we believe these things that we believe?
Jonathan Walton: So I think the journey for me started as a very, very formal question because I work for a large evangelical organization. Something that I wrestle with constantly is not necessarily what scripture says, but the application of that scripture and how that looks in our everyday lives. And I think trying not to be pulled into conflicts and elevating conflicts that culture is fighting, versus what scripture is arguing for. That's definitely how I felt over the last decade with sexuality because I don't believe that scripture elevates it to the place that church tradition does or colonization does, or just our culture does. So I think that's why for me personally, when I look at scripture, I can't get to being affirming.
At the same time, I cannot get to or justify or condone, and actually have to resist, any level of condemnation at the same time. So I think the affirming/not affirming binary is unhelpful because of the misreading or a skipping over altogether of John 3:17, where it says, “For God did not send the son into the world to condemn the world, but that by through him the world might be saved.” The implication of that for me is, if Jesus wasn't sent to the world to condemn the world, how can I condemn the world? How can I condemn anyone? And therefore, I think when I come to KTF, I say, of course, if Jesus can have anyone, Romans 3:23, all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. If we all can testify and God is bearing witness through us and we're all sinful, how could I minimize or diminish any person's voice who is actively seeking genuinely to follow Jesus?
Sy Hoekstra: Can I ask the obvious follow-up question because I'm pretty sure you have a good answer to it?
Jonathan Walton: Oh yeah. What is it?
Sy Hoekstra: Well, actually, I should ask the question regardless of whether you have a good answer to it, but I think you do. Don't you condemn other things that scripture condemns? Greed, racism, whatever?
Jonathan Walton: Yeah, but so what's interesting about that is I think there's a difference between condemning individual people and condemning concepts, ideals, and ideologies. So it is not me. It is the Holy Spirit who convicts of sin and it's the kindness of God that leads us to repentance. It is not my personal revelation, argument, or persuasion that convicts of sin. My argument can cause guilt, shame, fear, trepidation, for sure. But I think the transformative reality and power of the gospel is what leads people to follow Jesus. It's what leads people to step out of darkness into marvelous light.
I think when I condemn capitalism and I make really serious arguments against someone, or if someone asks me, oh, how could I work at this place or do this thing? Then I share my opinions with them, what I believe scripture’s revealing, but I am under no illusion that my argument reveals if something is sinful or not. I think the Holy Spirit, I will leave that work up to the Holy Spirit. I think what scripture requires of me is to bear witness to the Jesus that I know and invite people to follow him.
Sy Hoekstra: Can I go one step further?
Jonathan Walton: Of course. Yeah.
Sy Hoekstra: So I think you just drew a helpful distinction between condemning something like greed at large, and something like an individual person who is greedy or whatever.
Jonathan Walton: Right, right. Yeah. Yeah.
Sy Hoekstra: So two things then. One, that sounds like a thing a lot of queer Christians hate, which is people say all the time, “hate the sin, love the sinner.”
Jonathan Walton: Yeah. I actually think that that concept disconnected from praxis is absolutely harmful. Because I actually, I think people who say that don't actually love our queer family. It’s a quip.
Sy Hoekstra: Okay. And we will get… yeah, it is. I agree with that, and we'll get more into that idea. So you're talking about condemnation of the sin in general versus an individual person. So do you spend time condemning the sin in general of queerness?
Jonathan Walton: No, I don't.
Sy Hoekstra: How come? Why is that different than the other ones?
Jonathan Walton: I don't think it points to Jesus if I'm just in one side. I don't think it actually bears witness to Jesus in the ways that he would require of me.
Sy Hoekstra: Because of what, or how come?
Jonathan Walton: Okay, so two things. When I look at scripture and I see how Jesus dealt with gender and sexuality, religious institutions and the people who represent them when adultery came up, wanted to kill the woman that was caught in adultery, and they would've felt totally justified in doing that. I want to be where Jesus was, doing what he did in the same way. He stood between the crowd that wanted to stone the woman, addressed them, they left, and then he had a conversation with her. I don't think it's my role and responsibility to stand in front of a crowd, pull her up, condemn her, edify the crowd, and then try to tell the crowd not to do this anymore.
I think there's a, the ways in which we talk about sin and sinfulness in public and in private to embarrass, ridicule, all those types of things, absent and independent of relationship, is radically unhelpful, but we do it all the time.
Sy Hoekstra: Can I, like a brief summary or related idea? I think what I'm hearing is that you, Jonathan, and Jesus understand power dynamics [laughs].
Jonathan Walton: Yes. Yeah, that's true [laughs]. That is very succinct, yes.
Sy Hoekstra: Something that so many conservative Christians fundamentally do not and cannot understand because of their ideology and that leads to enormous problems in all things, but it has very specific problems that it leads to on this subject.
Jonathan Walton: Yes. And if I will lean into one follow-up comment, is that, I think that is why people get angry with me, is because I don't use my quote-unquote “power” to do that.
Sy Hoekstra: Non-affirming people get angry with you.
Jonathan Walton: Non-affirming people get angry with me, yes.
Sy Hoekstra: We have not, Suzie hasn't talked yet because she had lots of sirens in her background, so she has been on mute for a while.
Suzie Lahoud: Yeah. There may even be helicopters now, but I think the sirens have stopped.
Sy Hoekstra: Is everything okay?
Suzie Lahoud: I hope so.
Sy Hoekstra: Well, I can't hear anything anymore. So you go ahead.
Suzie Lahoud: Okay. One, thank you for sharing all that, Jonathan. That is, it's helpful.
Sy Hoekstra: Thank you for submitting to my cross examination [laughs].
Suzie Lahoud: Yeah, that was brutal, Sy, but I think it's helpful because I think that we don't… I think one of the problems is that we're not willing to have hard conversations like this in the church.
Sy Hoekstra: And I know Jonathan is.
Suzie Lahoud: Yeah, and Jonathan absolutely is. And Sy, I know you're absolutely, as editor and friend, you never shy away from the difficult questions. And so that, I really appreciate that about you guys and about this conversation.
I guess, just to frame my own contribution, I just want to start with a little story that is a bit of a tangent, but I think you'll see by the end why I'm going here. So I had a close friend in grad school. She's Muslim and an academic specializing in gender studies. And at a certain point in her life felt convicted that she wanted to start wearing the hijab; she wanted to start veilling. This may seem like a foreign concept to a lot of white American Christians, but actually the hijab is a symbol for a lot of different things. A lot of folks have been programmed in the United States, a lot of white Christians have been programmed to view it just as a symbol of oppression, but there are women in the Muslim community all over the world, who choose to take it up as a symbol against imperialist colonialist oppression. To take it up as a sign of personal and or as a sign of personal piety. You can think about nuns and the fact that they cover their hair and choose to take it up based on their understanding and reading of the Quran. So this friend, for a number of reasons, chose to start wearing the veil and it really bothered her brother.
So there was one day where her brother brought it up in a sort of very pointed way with her in front of their dad. He was saying, “I don't really know how I feel about the hijab. I don't know if I believe in it, if I think women should wear it. I don't know if I like the perception that it creates.” And going into all of the sort of counter arguments. Her dad very wisely turned to him and said, “Okay, well, then don't wear it.” And I think that's just such an incredible illustration, the wisdom of that father in realizing that at the end of the day, convictions on this particular issue weren't really about the son. They were about his daughter because it was her life that these convictions were going to have bearings on. It was about how she was going to choose to live out her life as a person of faith in this community.
So I just want to acknowledge up front that I'm speaking as a straight white woman. I'm also speaking, however, as a woman who is married, who is not silent in church, who doesn't cover my head when I pray. So I would say that in a lot of ways, my wrestling with how the Bible deals with human sexuality and how that pertains to my faith and my positions and my views has actually in a lot of ways, been parallel to my wrestling with what it means to be a woman of faith and a woman in the faith community and in the church. And because I have actually wrestled with scriptures that talk about women covering their head. I have wrestled with scriptures that talk about if women should be under the authority of a man. I have felt throughout most of my life, like I was created as a second-class citizen in the kingdom of God, because I was a woman. That God created woman second, so woman's created to serve man. I believed those things, and it was because I wanted to live out my life in a way that was faithful to the scriptures and to the teachings of Christ.
So as Sy shared earlier, when it comes to the question of LGBTQ Christians and the church's position on queerness and the biblical position on queerness, I am on a journey. I think that's okay to say, because I know that queer Christians, many of them are also on journeys, and come to different positions and land in different places. I think it's actually acknowledging of their humanity and of the complexity of this, and actually acknowledging of their faith to say that it's okay to wrestle with these things, but also I want to learn more about this from other queer Christians. I don't want to be hearing about this from my straight cisgender friends.
Sy Hoekstra: Amen.
Suzie Lahoud: I think we've heard enough from folks who don't know what it means to really wrestle. Who don't have enough at stake in this and who aren't the ones who get hurt, and whose lives can actually be at stake when the church takes certain positions on this. So I think we've heard enough of one side of the story. I'm ready to hear the other side, and that's the season that I'm in right now. So it's important for me, in addition to that, for my queer friends to know that I will support them and walk with them wherever they land on this. That if they choose to get married, I will be at their wedding. I will dance at their wedding. And if they are in a healthy, loving, faithful relationship, I will support them in that. If they feel called to a life of celibacy, I will support them in their life of celibacy and be there for the hard conversations around that.
And so I just think it’s… gosh, the church has so much growing to do in this. Again, I just want to emphasize, I do not believe that there are second class citizens in the kingdom of God, and I think that is what we have created around this issue. Jonathan, I really loved what you shared about not allowing culture to dictate the level that we elevate this conversation to. Because sometimes I'm also just afraid of having the conversation, because to be honest, to a certain extent, I also feel like it's not really any of my business. Like when folks come out to me, I'm really honored when they do that, and I take that very seriously.
I also try to reciprocate oftentimes when that happens by also… actually I should say, every time that's happened that someone close to me has come out to me, I reciprocated by sharing with them something that is also very personal and very vulnerable from my side. Because again, at the end of the day, I don't think it's really my business. I don't have folks asking me about the intimacies of my relationship with my husband. It's not their business. And Jonathan, I think you're right, that it's, even though I would say you and I land in slightly different places currently, but I think that point, that it’s the Holy Spirit's job to convict people on the way that they live their lives. That's not my job and I'm grateful that's not my job. So, yeah, I think that's how I want to open up the conversation.
Sy Hoekstra: I'll be brief. The reason I don't know where I am is shorter and more cerebral because that's whatever. That's who I am, even though it's annoying. Actually, I shouldn't say cerebral Suzie, that sounds like I'm judging your journey as unintelligent. That's not what I’m saying.
Suzie Lahoud: Since the emotive female has shared her part.
Sy Hoekstra: Exactly. Yeah. Right, right. Right.
Suzie Lahoud: The cerebral male will now answer with an intellectual response.
Sy Hoekstra: Yeah [laughs]. After the female had to be quiet for the first 20 minutes of the show or whatever. So basically for a long time, I looked a lot into this stuff when I was kind of a new Christian and I couldn't get around Romans 1, which I think is a lot of people’s sticking point. I can get around all the other passages, no problem. If you think Leviticus or 2 Corinthians or 2 Timothy or whatever, is very clear in making same sex relationships a sin or whatever, you have more reading to do, I promise you [laughs]. And really, it just took me finding other voices who had other opinions about Romans 1.
And me acknowledging the fact that I am never going to be able to resolve the actual controversies between people about whether or not Romans 1 is like an authoritative condemnation of same sex relationships without going and getting a PhD in biblical history and ancient Greek, which I do not feel called to do [laughs]. And most people don't feel called to do. The rest of us have to acknowledge this is a debate between people who know more than we do, and we need to figure out how to move on from there and not just say, “Oh, well, all the people that are around me and my church and my pastor believe X and therefore that's the truth.” That's the silly way to think about it. And I think there are people who actually don't know that there are other arguments out there.
There are people who take… most people dismiss the arguments. It’s like, oh, that's just a bunch of queer people trying to justify their desires and trying to lower the authority of scripture so that they can live however they want and not have to submit to the authority of God. I will say again, if that's what you think, you have more reading to do [laugh]. There's no, like that's absolutely wrong. Also, if you ever find yourself on any of these issues, saying all these people just are doing X, we call that bigotry guys [laughs]. That is prejudice. That is you saying, “I know how an entire group of people think,” without actually knowing that entire group of people, because you couldn't possibly know that entire group of people.
Suzie Lahoud: In this case more specifically, that is homophobia. Homophobia does not mean you are afraid of LGBTQ folks. It means that you hold positions like that one.
Sy Hoekstra: You have prejudices about them. It's kind of, let's go back to when you learned about racism in fourth grade, you know what I mean? If you have prejudged someone as being something, then that's a problem.
The things that kind of lead me toward an affirming position are a couple things that I think are interesting. Again, like Jonathan said, I think the Holy Spirit does actual convicting, does actual convincing of people. I don't believe that I'm going to change everybody's mind right now by bringing these things up. But these things that are interesting to me that I think are helpful in terms of how we think about this question are, I have never been able to figure out why someone marrying someone of the same sex or gender is a problem. I'm not saying is a sin, I'm saying is an actual problem. Because here's the thing. Any other sin, I get it. I understand why it's an issue. I understand why lying and stealing and cheating and dishonoring people and murdering, whatever, whatever any of the other things are that the Bible says we shouldn't be living that way, it's not wise. It's not whatever, it harms human flourishing. I get why that is, and I was never unable to understand why that would be.
So for a long time, I fell back on what I think is a very common thought, which is that, I think the thought is you're not supposed to use that as any sort of hermeneutical tool. You're not supposed to use that as anything that can help you read scripture because God knows more than you. He's authoritative, and if he says something, even if you don't understand why, you need to follow it because he's God and you're not. Which is in the abstract an absolutely true statement that I affirm and that I follow routinely in my life, and I have found his faithfulness and understood why later. Or sometimes I don't, but good things come out of the ways that I follow God, all that stuff is true. But I don't think of that idea anymore solely in the abstract. I think of it in terms of the God that I actually know. Like the God who has been revealed to me and with whom I have a relationship, what is he like? That actual God, not an abstract God who just throws down dictates and you obey them no matter what. The actual God that I know, what is he like, and what are the things that he…
So the reason that that idea is important, is because then when I go back to everything else, then I understand why these things are a problem, they make sense to me. And then I look at a gay relationship and I go, what on earth could possibly be wrong with this [laughs]? That's a relevant factor now because I'm actually talking about something that is out of line with the rest of the character of God. That doesn't solve the issue completely for me, I'm just saying those are legitimate ways to think about how we read scripture and how we can start to come to answers on questions that we don’t have the expertise or answers to.
And then another thing is just the issue of like, I talk about this on another podcast that we've already recorded. It probably came out already. I don't know yet though. The testimony podcast that we did. Yes, that will have come out by now.
Suzie Lahoud: God is outside of time and so is our podcast.
Sy Hoekstra: So am I [laughs]. But the idea that the Sabbath was made for man and not man for the Sabbath, or that Jesus changes rules on divorce when they get applied in ways that are inhumane. Or the idea that the Holy Spirit comes and makes things clean that were not clean, or moves into the Gentiles, which is something that no Jewish people expected at the time. All those things to me say that is actually, that's a part of the character of God. God can change things like that, and I think this is why it's so important for so many conservatives to say, “We have the cannon, we are cessationists. That, the Holy Spirit's not doing anything anymore. Everything is locked down and solid and God isn't going to move.”
And I think it is important that Jesus says the wind blows where it pleases and that whole passage. Which is not to say, let's all believe whatever we want with no regard to scripture. That's not what I'm saying. And I know that that is how people are going to characterize what I'm saying, and I don't care. Because the fact is the Bible reveals a God who changes rules [laughs]. That's something that happened. Again, this doesn't mean, oh, now I have decided absolutely that I am affirming. This is just a thing that is true about God that should be something taken into consideration. And the idea that we're just going to be like, oh, this is a hundred percent clear for all time, there's no questions we have to ask about it, I think is actually inconsistent with scripture. Inconsistent with the God that that scripture reveals.
Suzie Lahoud: If I could just jump in Sy, because it's such a great point that I hadn't thought about when you said, “I believe in a God that changes rules.” Because it's not about the rules, right? It's about God. It's about relationship with the actual being that is God and relationship with Jesus Christ. But it just made me think when you said that, I thought of the example of, yeah, in the Old Testament we see God changing the rules. And in conversation with man, like God in conversation with Abraham being like they have this back and forth and he is like, “Okay, I'm going to kill this many people. Okay. All right, fine. I'll kill this many people. Okay. Right, fine.” And they have this back and forth. And then with Jesus and the Syrophoenician woman, it's like, “No, I'm not going to give this to you. Okay, fine, I will give this to you.” So I think, yeah, just leaving room, because your point about leaving room for the mystery of God and allowing God to be God. That's where this fits in for me.
We talk in a previous episode about how all of these conversations… Oh no, sorry. In the future episode that will come out with Kai, we talk about how this conversation is woven into the fabric of all these other conversations we have about God and how we frame our theology and our understanding of who God is and what it means to walk in faith and creation and all of these things. And for me, this fits into the broader conversation of the mystery of God and allowing God to be God and to work in ways that I don't always expect and to work through people that I don't always expect. And to switch the script sometimes in ways that I don't expect. And I think that's so important.
One thing that you guys know I'm actually studying right now in my graduate studies and have worked on in the past, is the theology of hospitality. This is something Jonathan, you talk about a lot, is having a long table. Actually, I like to think about it as a round table. In our family we love round tables, because it's better for conversation, but like having a big old table where there is room for everybody at the table. And if we look at the fruit of non-affirming theologies, I understand where folks are coming from, but I see so much of the fruit of death and destruction in people's lives. And I think that should really give folks who love and follow Jesus pause. I think that should really give us pause.
Jonathan Walton: Absolutely. It's like this, I think to add to what Sy was saying, the thought that I had was it's not fruitful to hold fast to a rule-following God if you are trying to have a dynamic relationship with the creator of the universe who's constantly revealing himself to all people at all times. But it's very fruitful if you're trying to control and colonize people.
Suzie Lahoud: Yes, exactly. Exactly.
Sy Hoekstra: Sure is.
Jonathan Walton: And so, very helpful if you show up in Hawaii, very helpful if you show up in Polynesia, very helpful if you show up in South America. When we start to have, you know doing, my scholarship is around colonization and race and sexuality and gender, and like in the Americas. So if you want to go down the path of control, then you need… if one wants to do that, which strong parts of the church, strong parts of the government, strong parts of capitalism are trying to do that, then you need a God that functions just like you.
Sy Hoekstra: Yeah. And I will say we're going to get into, with Kai next week, some of the ways that that happens specifically around sexuality and colonization. I think it’s important to learn about those things because there is this thing that happens where conservative Christians in non-Western countries will sometimes say, “Oh, the gay agenda is being pushed on us by the West, this is a new form of colonization.” And that in some places might be true, I don't know, but it is not true everywhere and all the time. And there are many, many ways in which colonization directly impacted… colonization by the church took away queerness and gender fluidity and all kinds of things from indigenous people.
Can we get into a little bit about why… it may be obvious, but I think it's helpful to talk about why we believe that people who not just are affirming, but are in queer relationships should absolutely be in church leadership and should absolutely be allowed to be partners in something like our company. Why is that? Actually, Jonathan, I'm interested to hear about that one from you, since you are on a non-affirming stance. Why do you then not say, oh, we need to enforce this as a requirement for leadership in the church?
Jonathan Walton: The reason that I think it's necessary and helpful for queer voices to be part of our company is because, when we first started out with this entire thing, we are going to center and elevate marginalized voices and that just, that lives into that reality. So if I'm to have integrity as a person, I think it needs to be consistent across my life. So similarly, the reason that I would want queer voices centered and elevated in our company, is because I think they should be centered and elevated in church. What I mean by that is, every single person who is on the margins, the first becomes last, the last become first. So if we're pushing people out, Jesus, I think would bring them in and make space. Jesus would bring them in and wrestle. Jesus would bring them in for conversations. Jesus would bring them in for stories and time and leadership and wrestling, because we're not trying to beat people into submission to a God that we have some exclusive revelation with. I think what we're actually trying to do as pastors, and I'm not a pastor, I'm a campus minister and a follower of Jesus, but I'm not a pastor of a church. But I do believe that when I have conversations with pastors, my reminder to them is we are to pastor. We are shepherding people. We are walking alongside them.
So if someone is trans and comes out to me and says, “What should I do? Should I have a kid or not with my partner?” Or someone else says, “Oh, should I transition?” Or someone else says, “Should I enter into this relationship?” My question back to them is always, “What is it that you want from me in this relationship interaction? Because what I would like to do is walk with you towards Jesus and whatever that looks like. Let's figure out what it means to do that.” And I think as long as people are trying to do that, you could lead in the church, because that to me equals being sober-minded, which is what we're supposed to look for.
Sy Hoekstra: You're saying what you think they're looking for is your permission?
Jonathan Walton: Yeah. If someone is looking for my permission, I immediately say, “I can't give you that.” I don't actually think scripture gives me that mandate. That my permission, my blessing, I don't actually think I hold that power. I am not an overseer. The faith that, we are leaving colonized faith. Just because I am a straight man in a church does not make me the overseer for your sexuality. And then you have to come and get approval from me to function on this plantation. That's not how that works.
Suzie Lahoud: It assumes the hierarchy.
Jonathan Walton: Yeah, we're all sheep. And so I'm not going to buy into the fact that I'm on a horse overseeing the cotton you’re picking. That's not my role.
Sy Hoekstra: I will say, I think it's a point of clarity, because I think you, in a lot of the minds of non-affirming people, are a bit of a unicorn, even though you're not. Like you aren't that… like in the big picture, but I do want to say you are extremely consistent with this perspective.
Jonathan Walton: [laughs] Yes.
Sy Hoekstra: Meaning to the point where you spend a lot of time personally shepherding and leading racists. Actual racist white people who do not believe in your value, right?
Jonathan Walton: This is true.
Sy Hoekstra: Which is why… and you're doing the same thing. You're not their overseer either, which I think is an important thing to point out. By the way, I'm also not saying like Kyle Howard said when he was on this show, I'm not saying everybody has to be Jonathan Walton, and yeah, has to be called to this work. I'm just saying, this is not… what you're saying right now is, to the person who is suspicious of you, and they're saying, oh, this is, everything you're saying now is just an escape card to get out of doing something that you're not comfortable doing, no, wrong [laughs]. These exact beliefs put you in so many profoundly uncomfortable positions that I'm willing to listen to you say these things without rolling my eyes. You know what I mean?
Jonathan Walton: Well, I appreciate that [laughs].
Sy Hoekstra: Yeah. Suzie, do you have thoughts on this stuff about us as a company or church leadership? Just queer people in leadership in general?
Suzie Lahoud: Yeah. I think, well, and before I start speaking, the sirens are still kind of in the background. Can you hear that, or am I good?
Sy Hoekstra: We as an audience will accept that you have sirens in the background and there’s nothing you…
Jonathan Walton: Yeah. There’s a legitimate emergency in her neighbourhood.
Suzie Lahoud: Yeah. Yeah. We found the emergency, it's real. I just want to reiterate again, that as KTF Press, centering and elevating marginalized voices is a huge part of what we feel called to do. So I think I would just restate what I said earlier, which is if I'm going to learn more about this issue, I want to learn it from queer folks. From queer Christians.
I think I'll just add to that also by saying that there’s so much fear-mongering in the church around this issue, that the three of us were having this conversation earlier, and we were talking about how you almost have to come out of the closet as affirming even. I'm not even talking about the kind of ostracization that can happen for queer Christians who come out. I'm talking about even just Christians who come out and say, “You know what, this might actually be okay with God.” That alone can get you kicked out of churches, kicked out of institutions. We just posted about this in a recent newsletter. What's going down at Calvin University right now with the CRC’s ruling on human sexuality and raising the report to confessional status. We're seeing this happen in real time in churches and denominations across the country and in faith communities. And so I just, I refuse to give in on any point to the politics of fear. I want a hermaneutic of love that I believe is deeply rooted in the person and expression of Jesus Christ.
Jesus never once spoke about queer folks. He talked about money a lot and the dangers of money and greed. He spoke about that a whole lot. He never once talked about this issue. So I'm not saying it's not in the Bible. I'm just saying, I think as a company, we feel that again, there's another side of the story that is not being clearly told in the church. This conversation is being had all over the place in the world around us, but we have shut up our ears. And in spaces that are not welcoming to queer Christians, all we've really succeeded in doing is keeping them in hiding. Those folks are still in your community, you're not going to make them change. You're not going to turn them straight.
And we've seen all kinds of violence that that kind of, like you said, Jonathan, it's about control. It's about oppressing people. All kinds of horrific things have been done to the queer community to try to change who they are. We are not changing anybody by doing what we're doing and by not allowing folks who are queer to be in positions of leadership and to share about who they are, and to share about why they hold the convictions that they do. By not doing that, all we are doing is keeping people living in fear and in hiding and not allowing to live out the fullness of who they are.
And it just makes me so sad too, because I look at folks who maybe after the fact later in their ministries or in their lives, we realize that they were queer or maybe we know at the time. But I think of folks like James Baldwin, like Audre Lorde. I think of folks like bell hooks and Henri Nouwen and all of the wisdom that those folks had to share as queer people. And the fact that the church would not have listened because of how they identified in their sexuality, that is horrific to me. I've learned so much from their voices and from their wisdom. I think of folks like Bayard Rustin, who was actually one of the primary advisors to MLK, it was his idea to organize the March on Washington and he had to stay in the shadows because he was queer. And that's all the church is really doing.
Jonathan Walton: Yeah. I want to go in with you Suzie and just name explicitly. It's not just that we are not allowing their voices to be heard and not allowing them to be centered and elevated, but what we're trying to do, but when we marginalize queer people, we're participating in homophobia. We're reinforcing transphobia.
Suzie Lahoud: Yes. Yes.
Jonathan Walton: We’re keeping patriarchy and toxic masculinity in place. We are making sure that the paterfamilias, as Willie Jennings talks about, stays there, like in the status quo. That is what, like there's explicit theological and other practical stuff happening when we do that, and I do not want to be a part of it in any part of my life, as consistently as I can.
Suzie Lahoud: I think you naming all those things together just clarified for me that it's… when you, again, Jonathan, when you talk about control, it's like this is all the mesh of the armor. And if you allow, it's like those who want to remain in control and in spiritual power and authority over people can't allow for chinks in the armor. That's why it is threatening when women suddenly feel empowered. Then it becomes a conversation about the slippery slope to becoming affirming. The conversation about, you always hear the slippery slope argument, what that's about is about chinks showing up in the armor where the folks who are in control feel like they can't be in control anymore. And I just want to say, you're not in control. You do not own the church. It is not your body, it’s the body of Christ.
Sy Hoekstra: And that is the way that slippery slope arguments most often function. A slippery slope, if you're making that argument in good faith, that is an experience-based argument. It's like I have seen this thing that you're doing lead to this horrifying thing. And the thing at the bottom of the slope has to be actually horrifying. It can't just be like…
Jonathan Walton: It can't just be your emotional discomfort and inability to deal with conflict and tension in people that are different from you.
Sy Hoekstra: Which is why you have to turn it into if you become affirming, then you have destroyed the authority of scripture and of God himself and you're ruining the faith. Like you're sending people to hell, whatever. That has to be the end of the slippery slope, and if that's not the end of the slippery slope, then the slippery slope argument doesn't work. Which is actually something I think we wanted to touch on, like you Suzie, mentioning how often Jesus actually talked about this issue. How often the Bible as a whole actually talks about this issue, versus how often it talks about something like money. And it is so wild to me that the litmus test for your beliefs on the authority of scripture or your beliefs on orthopraxy or whether or not you are sufficiently doctrinal enough is about this issue in so many places. And increasingly so, not just the CRC, the PCA is trying to do the same thing. This is becoming the litmus test for being someone who cares about scripture or God or whatever, and not the stuff that God actually talks about in scripture a hundred thousand times more than this. Nobody seems to care if you're hoarding wealth in your bank account. Not an issue.
Suzie Lahoud: Yeah. Which, how many pastors have been doing that?
Jonathan Walton: Right.
Sy Hoekstra: I mean, the Catholic Church is the largest real estate holder in the world.
Jonathan Walton: Yeah, and also in New York City specifically where we are [laughs]. It’s like that kind of stuff is just, the fact that you can get away with that and not recognize that that's idolatry and act like you're being faithful to scripture blows my mind. And it didn't used to blow my mind because it's the air we breathe. It's like, it's the thing that a lot of people just grew up in. This is part of, I first realized this before Obergefell, when the gay marriage debate was so intense in the church. It just, it struck me at some point that it was like you all think that we need to enforce Christian marriages on the rest of the country by making them straight, not by making them Christian. You're not objecting to atheist marriages, you're objecting to gay marriages, which means very clearly that when you think you of a Christian marriage, you think of straight people before you think of Jesus, right?
Suzie Lahoud: Wow. Yeah.
Sy Hoekstra: And that's an idol. That is, it couldn't be more clearly an idol. You're saying being straight is more important than being a Christian when it comes to a Christian marriage. So this is just, it's an idol that runs throughout how so much of the church thinks about anything related to LGBTQ issues. In the culture wars or in our need to control people or whatever, we have created a massive idol that is difficult to identify and is kind of everywhere.
We had a bunch of technical issues recording this, so Jonathan had to run, but Suzie, I wonder if you have any closing thoughts.
Suzie Lahoud: Well, I guess one maybe final thought that we had discussed earlier, the three of us, in prepping for this conversation was, so I heard this, I think it was a sermon illustration I heard once about this professional athlete. I don't remember his name, I'm probably going to get the details of the story wrong, so, but I'm just using it as an illustration.
Sy Hoekstra: Suzie and sports.
Suzie Lahoud: Right. I don't follow sports. But anyway, this particular athlete was signing autographs for fans, and this one woman came up to him. It was something borderline inappropriate, she wanted him to sign her shirt while she was wearing it or something like that, and he flat out refused. So the folks around him were kind of like, “Hey dude, that's really rude.” Like he just did it in a very brusque way. And they were like, “That's really rude, she's a fan, da, da, da, da.” And he said, his response was, “If someone's going to be offended, it's not going to be my wife.”
That's also how I in some ways view this conversation is, if I'm going to say something that's going to offend somebody, it's not going to be the folks for whom this defines their life. It's not going to be queer Christians for whom again, they have so much more at stake in this conversation. I realize that some of these things are going to be offensive to Christians who are non-affirming, but I'm sorry, you are not the foremost people in my mind when I'm thinking through wrestling through these things.
Sy Hoekstra: Or, can I say, Jesus' mind [laughs]. That's how it goes.
Suzie Lahoud: Yes. But having said that, I realize another way the argument could be turned against the way that I'm using it now would be, well, shouldn't it be it's not going to be God that's going to be offended? And I would say, yes and I agree with Sy that I think Christ is much more loving and much more accepting and much more welcoming than the church gives him credit for, and than the church demonstrates in its practice. Again, that goes back to the idea of why center and elevate marginalized voices. Those are the voices that I care about and that I think Jesus cares about.
But having said that, I do understand where Christians in the church are coming from when they're wrestling with scriptures, when they come at it from a non-affirming position. Again, this has been a journey for me. So when we talk about things like gay marriage and again, gay marriage has been legalized in the United States, so this is sort of an old conversation now, but churches were fighting it tooth and nail at the time. Actually, there are political forces in our country that are now fighting to overturn it. That's on the agenda. So actually, I think it is very much, as I think about it, it’s still a live conversation, especially, we are recording this on the day that Roe v. Wade was officially overturned. So there's a lot that's still up in the air right now and the culture wars are alive and well.
Sy Hoekstra: And legally speaking, Roe is actually doctrinally connected to… I know this is really confusing if you're not a lawyer, but the right to privacy is what's at stake in, or what has now been overturned in the context of abortion, and that's the same constitutional right that's involved in gay marriage. That was even the same right that they used to outlaw the criminalization of sodomy. And by the way, contraception bans, those could come back. There are a lot of things that can fall once Roe falls, but that's a tangent. Go ahead.
Suzie Lahoud: But all that to say, yes, there are political forces actively at work in our country today to build that legal precedent. Like you said, it's all interconnected. But yeah, but all that to say, I do want to also be accepting of brothers and sisters in Christ who are still wrestling with this, who come at the conversation from different places. I think there is a space for building consensus within the church and within broader society, built on this principle that, it's actually from a philosopher, John Rawls, and he talks about the concept of political, not metaphysical. Basically, it's a concept that allows you to build consensus when folks are coming from different religious backgrounds, when they're coming from different faith perspectives. Basically, what Rawls is saying is that you can come to the same political conclusions and agree on certain political points, but you don't have to agree on the fundamentals of how you got there.
That's essentially how we were able to come up with things like the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which gosh, some Christians don't agree with [laughs]. And I can't even get into that conversation now, but people like me, I think that's a good thing. I think that's amazing that across the entire world, folks from different religious backgrounds and different social backgrounds and different cultures were able to come together and agree on these fundamental rights of a human being. I think that's a beautiful thing. I think that builds a strong fabric for social cohesion and peaceful coexistence. And shouldn't we, aren't we called to be peacemakers as followers of Christ? All that to say, I think there is a place for Christians who wrestle with this to still be able to come to certain conclusions and be able to build healthy, safe spaces for the queer community, even within the church, even if you are still wrestling on your own personal convictions on this issue. But again, going back to my original point, recognizing that you have the least at stake in this conversation, and this does not pertain directly to your life.
Also, as Sy was saying, what's the danger and threat to you anyway of your brother or sister in Christ being queer and choosing to be in a queer relationship and even choosing to marry their partner? How does that hurt you anyway? But I just want to throw out that, because I think it can be helpful.
Sy Hoekstra: There are answers to that question, but it's what I was talking about before. The danger is the destruction of the faith through the lowering of scriptural authority and the authority of God and all that. That's what we're saying is probably not actually the case if you want to spend some time looking into it.
Suzie Lahoud: Right, right. It's a misperception.
Sy Hoekstra: Yeah, exactly. One other thing is, I think a lot of people get really hung up on, okay, but didn't the church have one opinion on this for so long and now it's changed? Again, the history is, I don't want to over emphasize this, but there have been kind of varying opinions on this. There have been people throughout church history who are kind of gender fluid, who are kind of not super clear on their sexuality. That sort of thing has happened and that's history that has not surprisingly been uncovered more recently. The other thing though, is when people are just like, oh, there's tradition on this and all these arguments are new. Like all the affirming arguments are new, and so we're going to be suspicious of them. I would just say another thing to consider is, the other thing that's new is us letting queer people do theology and not have to stay hidden in the closet because they're afraid of literal death. So that is a recent development in history as well.
Suzie Lahoud: Well, actually, could I just jump in for a second Sy, and clarify, allow having queer folks do theology as openly queer folks, yes.
Sy Hoekstra: You're right.
Okay, I think I am going to going to wrap us up here, even though we could go on about this forever. Look, this is a really hard conversation. I'm sure we have made some people upset. We're trying to do this in as respectful a way as possible. If you have stuff that you want to tell us to educate us on things that we're not thinking or that we haven't considered, we would love to hear from you, with the obvious hesitation that if you're just angry at us that we gave credence to anyone who is affirming and you don't like them. I mean, you're still free to write in. We may or may not respond depending on your words. Because the truth is, whenever anyone talks about this, they get wildly hateful stuff from people. That's the reason I'm hesitating there. But if people are genuinely trying to engage and converse or teach us in any way, we would love to hear from you. You can always email firstname.lastname@example.org with any thoughts that you have about anything that you hear on this show, or that you read from us.
Also, as a reminder, go to ktfpress.com, check out our subscription. That gets you the bonus episodes of this show and our newsletter, and supports everything else that we do. If you would consider supporting us if you appreciate what we're trying to do here, that would be enormously helpful and we would really appreciate it. And you can always go to ktfpress.com/freemonth to start off your subscription with a free month, if you just want to check it out.
That is all from us for now. Next week we have Kai Ngu on, again, to talk about, one of the co-founders of Church Clarity and a divinity student studying all kinds of really interesting things to do with theology and history and colonialism and sexuality, and that conversation we've already recorded it, that conversation with them was fantastic. So listen up to that one.
Our theme song as always, “Citizens” by Jon Guerra. Our podcast art is by Jacqueline Tam, and we will see you all in two weeks.
[The song “Citizens” by Jon Guerra fades in. Lyrics: “And that you’re building a city/ Where we arrive as immigrants/ And you call us citizens/ And you welcome us as children home/ Where we arrive as immigrants/ And you call us citizens/ And you welcome us as children home.” The song fades out.]
Sy Hoekstra: Can you leave your computer on so Suzie and I can just finish the episode up?
Jonathan Walton: Of course. Yeah. Yeah. I don't have to leave, like I have to physically go, but you can keep talking.
Sy Hoekstra: Okay, awesome. We appreciate it. Thank you, Jonathan.
Jonathan Walton: All right. Bye.
Sy Hoekstra: This is, Jonathan didn't mute himself and now I can hear myself through Jonathan's headphones.
Suzie Lahoud: [laughs].