“Let me first say that I am biased now and always will be,” Rob said, after I finally found the guts to call him. It seemed safe to confide in him since he lived so far away.
I called hoping Rob would know how I felt – since he had also spent time in a close-knit Christian community that didn’t – on paper – approve of his daughter’s sexual orientation. I was still in the early stages then, not yet talking locally about it but needing to know I wasn’t alone.
He did know how I felt, and talked me through it. He first prescribed love and acceptance, drawing the family together instead of apart. He then shared compassion for the journey we all were entering, being as we were, between worlds. (This between worlds feeling is too profound to sum in a sentence, but to try: “sneaking” outside the church to find help, while defending that same church to the outside; or in my daughter’s case: having half of you fully accepted and the other half nearly rejected, but never all of you in any one place.)
Rob’s phone call soon turned to the topic of the church’s handling and beliefs around LGBTQ people. Both of us were from backgrounds where straight people had opinions on how this worked, where morals were traditional, and “the Bible” held the rules.
We weren’t used to naming our bias or seeing our view as one among many valid interpretations. That is to say, at some level we considered ourselves insiders to the truth, free from the bias that tripped up outsiders.
By saying he was biased now, Rob was probably protecting himself from my silent judgement. What he couldn’t say to me then – but i can now hear – was, “Don’t forget that you’re biased too, you just don’t know it yet.”
Bias: a particular tendency, trend, inclination, feeling, or opinion, especially one that is preconceived or unreasoned. – Dictionary.com
Sometimes communities of faith can create a bubble where all is protected. Our human craving for certainty makes us try to boil complex multi-colored things down to black and white.
Especially when it came to the scriptures. “The Bible is clear” was a common refrain in our circles. The inerrancy of scripture subjugated conversations about the many human hands which had transcribed, translated, and transformed its words.
I had been unaware of how possible it was to take an attitude from my denominational, national, racial, or social tribe and find support for it in the Bible. It was easy to think, for instance, that the earth was temporary and ours for the taking, since the bible “clearly” told Adam to subdue and fill the earth and then predicted its ending in a rapturous battle. Only as an adult Christian would I hear the Bible “clearly” calling for Creation Care: that the end of times would find a return to, rather than a destruction of, this blue and green globe. Both of these views came “from the Bible” but were also influenced by the ideas and culture of the time.
A topic like same sex relationships was no different. If you were asked to list the important themes after a first-time read through the entire Bible: love, justice, generosity, peacemaking, and many others would surface. “Homosexuality” wouldn’t even make a list like The Top 50 Talmudic Takeaways, yet in terms of cultural influence, it is one of the Top 2 Believer’s Battles. Since it is mentioned barely 7 times – none by Jesus – amongst tens of thousands of verses across thousands of years, we might suspect there are also cultural factors at play. Especially when you start to read them and find half of them to be circumstantial (like the gang rape of Sodom which, as Ezekiel later clarifies, was quite inhospitable) or mentioned among lists of random prohibitions, such as blending cloth like cotton and polyester. (if anything should have been banned it was polyester).
On the Bias: at an angle; diagonally to the fibers of something – Dictionary.com
By the time I called my “biased” friend, my views were already opening up, and I was ready to hear another view. I had begun to know and hear of other LGBTQ people whose stable backgrounds challenged my pseudo-scientific suppositions about what “caused” it or that it could change. I was ready to hear his “bias” and think about it anew, because the pieces weren’t adding up.
And viewing the individual pieces turned out to make the difference. Until now, I hadn’t been looking into it for myself. I had been hoping I wouldn’t need to, but suddenly I did. I soon discovered that the evangelical faith I lived in made it hard to separate any single issue without calling the whole story into question. Everything would be on the line if I wanted rethink even one part of our cultural Bible.
It was like a massive bundle of beliefs: logs cut and roped together from a forest of settled and certain trees. They all went together like a clear-cut Christian forest: clean language, love of neighbor, Jesus’ death and resurrection, voting pro-life above all other causes, being against same-sex marriage, tithing, living a witness, weekly small groups and even daily “quiet time.” Even though Jesus, in that same Bible, had narrowed it down to “Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved,” it was impossible to be gay AND Christian, and everyone knew it.
It’s popular to call this process “deconstruction” – I might call it “unbundling”. Because all these beliefs were strapped together, rethinking even one might mean the whole thing was up for grabs. And now that some of the logs didn’t fit in my bundle, I would have to unbundle completely to see which. This extraction process was more painful than I expected; far moreso than any one issue. Perhaps if I’d been exposed to more voices – with different views but still part of the Christian story – I might have avoided the separation anxiety.
Bias: A steady voltage or magnetic field… applied to a system .. to cause it to operate over a predetermined range. – Oxford Dictionary
When I saw how difficult it was for a new view to emerge, I started to wonder if I had been operating under the bias of some magnetic field all along.
Maybe my bias was really a bundle.
Maybe that’s why same-sex marriage is such a huge deal in the church: because it forces – or frees – people to pull one thing out of the magnetic field. Once we find the strength to disagree on one issue, what else might be questioned?
Rachel Held Evans describes how reading a history book called Civil War as a Theological Crisis, ‘accidentally’ finalized her acceptance of same-sex marriage. She read about Christians in times of Civil War naming clear biblical support for slavery, calling abolitionists “soft” and biased. (Not all Christians – many also worked to end slavery). The parallels from that era jumped out at her, and when she saw the bias at play, it caused her to see the battles of today in a different light.
There was a time when Christians approved of slavery in the South, while at the exact same time, Northern believers used their Bible to condemn it. There was a time when Christians didn’t drink, while at the exact same hour C.S Lewis was sitting in an Oxford pub working out his seminal book, Mere Christianity.
What time and place are we sitting in now?
When the time and place have changed from this moment, what elements will stand?
Bias is a tendency to prefer one person or thing to another, and to favor that person or thing – Collins Dictionary
It seems clearer to me now that we all have biases. My phone call friend owned his bias almost in acquiescence: knowing that I would assume he thought in this new way because his daughter was gay. He couldn’t see clearly anymore. He was biased.
Probably the way you are thinking it now about me.
To which I say yes. I am biased. Now, when I look at the bible I want to find support for my loved one to experience love and partnership in a way that matches how she was created. And now, I do.
But I must consider that I was also biased before, just in a different direction. It wasn’t that the earlier-me wanted the Bible to condemn homosexuality. It was more that I wanted the gospels to be true – I wanted Jesus to love me and save me and set me free from my selfishness. I wanted the rich community life that came with the belief system. I wanted to hope it would all be made right at the end of time, and to experience the release of rehearsing that every Sunday in worship.
But because of the bundle – I couldn’t have Jesus without all the rest. You might say my bias toward the whole story forced my acceptance of each specific part of it.
Since we are unlikely to rid ourselves of bias, becoming aware of it at least helps us unbundle our time and place from the things we call universal and timeless.
I’m disappointed that my earlier bias toward the bundle kept me from seeing just how thin are the biblical arguments against same-sex marriage.
Before giving sight, Jesus spit onto the ground and rubbed the resulting mud onto a blind man’s eyes. Ah the joy of seeing, we think, but I wonder: wasn’t it painfully bright at first? Wasn’t there a stinging throb as his vision activated and opened neural pathways into the unused parts of his brain?
So it is with this journey of seeing that my bias was there all along. Like any journey, there is the joy of seeing things anew; of following the golden sun across open, swaying fields to places I didn’t know existed. But going off-road requires a lighter pack, and choosing what to leave behind was more difficult than I expected. I’ve had to unbundle the whole thing and take only what will last. I expect more re-packing ahead.
I’m saddened that many of my earlier community will think of me as ‘falling away’ when in fact, it’s quite the opposite. I’m drawing deeper into God’s love. God’s arms are the only cradle big enough to find rest in when the bundle is falling apart. As a result, I’m feeling more comfortable in places where people can see their bias and name it. Especially when those same places give grace to those becoming aware of long unnoticed biases.
And all of this may be why I find myself frequently starting conversations with evangelical Christians about LGBTQ issues with the phrase, “First, let me say that I am biased.”
But, I ask, am I the only one?
♦ weekendswell ♦
Logging Pile: Virginia State Parks staff via Wikimedia Commons