"One day, your grown-up child comes to you and confesses that he plans to marry his same-sex partner."
As a Christian father, I am neither openly liberal nor strictly traditional. Those labels or categories often confuse me more than they clarify issues.
But concerning that future hypothesis, if it should happen to me, I would have to make a choice in accordance to what and how I believe as a Christian.
Should I then send my son packing and disown him, or should I learn to respect his choice, maintain my own belief, and attend the ceremony anyway (since he is my son)?
Am I a liberal for doing the latter, or a strict traditionalist for doing the former? Which of the choice is right then, or more right?
Or worse, have I failed as a heterosexual father who himself is committed to a heterosexual marriage by taking for granted that my son will grow up to be a heterosexual Christian too?
Yestersay's papers make it no easier for me. It is entitled "Church council's position on homosexuality "has not changed"".
It reports that "the leaders of the National Council of Churches of Singapore (NCCS) have reiterated to its members that it "does not condone homosexual practice and...considers the homosexual lifestyle as sinful and unacceptable.""
Well, to be honest, I don't and can't expect the church's position to ever change. And I am quite relief that the NCCS also added "sinful" and "unacceptable" to the last sentence above.
This makes it easy for me to discern/predict the direction of the church when it comes to dealing with homosexuals. But such relief is temporary.
Why? Because of a recent Sunday Times' article, that's why.
It is an article about the gradual but pervading cultural change of mindset and attitude towards homosexuality.
Like it or not, in that article on Dec 17, it reports that "there is now a growing acceptance among Christians of the idea that homosexuality itself is not wrong, even though a majority of them continue to believe that homosexual acts are a sin."
I will leave it to you to reconcile "not wrong" and "sin" appearing in that sentence. But if you separate the professing homosexual from the practising homosexual, the reconciliation is somewhat possible.
Yet, if you delve deeper, the reconciliation is still an uncomfortable one. Here is what I mean.
If homosexuality in itself is "not wrong", but the act is a sin, does it make homosexuality by profession an "acceptable sin" while classifying homosexuality by practice an "unacceptable sin"?
I guess it is still excusable (or redeemable) to admit to having homosexual tendency (thoughts), but resist engaging in the abominable act, right? This makes hating the sin (by acting it out), but loving the sinner (by admission only) much easier for Christians, right?
Mind you, in Christendom, the professing homosexual is still a sinner, but because he resists the act, he is "less of a sinner" and is readily acceptable to Christians as compared to someone who professes the tendency and acts it out. Maybe this parallel example may shed some light (or less light) here.
I can imagine a married man admitting that he is thinking of someone else other than his wife on regular intervals, but then proudly tells his wife that he has always successfully resisted such temptation. Therefore, she should have no fear of him going astray.
And then the husband goes on to assure his wife that it is safe to continue to love him, while hating the adulterer in him. You can say (with some strain of language) that the husband is a "professing adulterer", but thankfully not a practising adulterer.
Does it then turn the husband's adulterous tendency into an acceptable sin? Mm...
Now, let's go back to the papers.
While NCCS gave no comment to the Sunday Times' article, it did make its stand clear that "while it sees homosexual acts as sinful, (the NCCS) said it is also empathetic that "homosexuals should be regarded and treated no less as persons of worth and dignity", and rejects homophobia and every kind of discrimination against homosexuals.""
Ultimately, the NCCS's goal is to love the sinner, in this case, referring to both the professing and practising homosexual, and it wrote in a letter that "to care for same-sex attracted persons causes our member churches to keep seeking appropriate and compassionate ways to relate and reach out to them with the life-changing power of our faith, namely the gospel of forgiveness and new life in Jesus Christ."
Lesson? Alas, how I wish the world is less complex, more black and white.
How I wish that we can call a spade a spade, that is, we don't give someone a spade for digging and then ask him to pretend that it is a giant spoon for eating.
In the end, we have to make up our mind about this homosexual conundrum.
Undoubtedly, in my view, a practising homosexual is "more wrong" than one who professes to having homosexual tendency. But, is the distinction even helpful? Aren't I being pretentious? Recall the adulterer of a husband, but only in thought?
Further, does thinking about it sooner or later lead one to cross the line? Should one play with fire and hope that he or she will not get burn?
What is the Church's stand on that distinction anyway, that is, is it an "acceptable sin" if one is merely a professing homosexual, and an "unacceptable sin" if one is a practising homosexual? Is it right?
If it is adultery, we can rely on what Jesus once said that we are as guilty as our thoughts about it. But how does it apply to a professing homosexual then? Maybe, not all sins are created equally?
And ultimately, we Christians have to show them love, compassion and patience when we engage them (regardless of the distinction and pardon my implied distinction of "we" and "them") with the end goal of asking them to repent (seek forgiveness) and lead them into a "new life in Jesus Christ".
For a sin is still a sin, whether one practises it or thinks only about it right?
If so, how should I engage my son in that hypothetical example should he come to me with that "abominable" admission and compound the "abomination" by telling me that he has decided to carry out the "unholy" consummation?
I guess if it really happens to me, I will have to cross the bridge when I reach there as I do not at this moment (or at any moment) have the answer.
Nevertheless, I assure you this, it will be a long, long, long walk across that seemingly irreconcilable bridge.
And I guess, sin is always other people, because the world is much, much clearer that way. It is only when sin becomes us, that is, when it happens in our household that the line gets blurred and agonizingly less clear.
And when it happens to other people, it is undeniably unacceptable for us. We naturally adopt an uncompromising stand. We may even go ballistic about it.
But when it happens closer to home, we are dumbstruck. Eventually, to preserve the relationship, we have to find ways and means to justify its acceptance one way or another (or we can go ballistic and disown our son).
This is where compassion, empathy and sympathy really bite, and the cognitive dissonance really deepens. There is thus no clear answers to it. It is also where labels or roles like "liberal" or "traditionalist" will be the least helpful.
At such time, the only role I know is to continue to be his father, that is, to love and to seek to understand, to suspend judgment and be a listener, and to assure him that I will always put relationship above theology, ideology and dogma.
After that, I will take him by the hand, and walk that long, long bridge together. And it is still our relationship that will heal the gap, not our conflicting beliefs. Cheerz.
Postscript: Strange, but I once had this dream about what Jesus said: You will know them by their fruits.
This dream is about a landowner, who owns a huge plot of fertile land that stretches to the horizon.
As his fields are fertile, his harvest were abundant, aplenty. His land yielded much fruits, and he was incredibly wealthy.
At first, he invited all the people into his mansion for feasting. Every harvest day was a day of mass celebration.
Then, one day, he thought to himself: "Hey, why should I allow people to feast for free? I should charge them. They should pay a price for the fruits."
So, the landowner charged the people per entry. But it didn't stop there.
After some time, he thought to himself: "Hey, wait a minute, why should I let everyone in? Some are less well dressed. Some smell. Others have poor table manners. I think I should restrict the guest list."
So, he invited only those who meet his expectation.
Every harvest day, the crowd still congregated at his gates. But not all were invited. Many were turned away. They just do not satisfy the criteria. They just can't pay the high entry price. They just can't live up to the farmer's expectations.
Eventually, the guest list dwindled; from everybody who were nobody to only those who were somebody as seen through the eyes of the landowner.
Does our church then run the risk of being like the landowner who only allow some to enter and restrict the rest? Note that such restriction/ discrimination can be implied by our unspoken words and unintended conduct.
If the harvested fruits represent the fruits of the Spirit like love, kindness and patience, has the church become a storehouse of virtues, a museum of masterpieces, where we are always telling people how to live their life, but we are still struggling to live them out ourselves?
Do we just demonstrate the fruits within the church, but outside of it, we are basically rotting inside?
And one author asked: "Can Christianity experience for itself the things it has preached for others?" (Brian D. McLaren).
Food for thought?