Holy Love: Prologue

Today, we move from the larger context of the new pentecost (or whatever else it is called) to the topic of human sexuality—one particular place where the fresh wind of the Spirit is blowing.  Upcoming posts will follow the development of my book, ‘Holy Love.’ [1]  You can read these posts without having the book, but they will make more sense if you do. These posts expand what is in the book.

As we turn to explore the book, it is important for you to understand that it is a primer, not a lengthy study.  You will find yourself saying, “I wish he had said more about this” at various places.  Keep in mind that the book is like a key– it opens the door to a more in-depth exploration.  I was asked to write an introductory book that would show there is another legitimate way (a more progressive way) to interpret Scripture with respect to human sexuality.  The footnotes and reading list provide the means for going beyond what I wrote about.  Hopefully, these posts will serve that purpose too.

The meeting that I had with “The Other Sheep” group at First United Methodist Church in Orlando in late May of 2014 was crucial in my journey into being an ally with LGBTQ+ people.  The meeting occurred soon after my book, ‘ For the Sake of the Bride’ was published. [2]  I was already embroiled in pushback for writing the book, experiencing the early waves of rejection for having changed my mind (and heart) about LGBTQ+ sexuality and for moving away from the conservative theology I had held so long concerning it.

The meeting was crucial because it was the beginning of turning my newfound, inclusive theology about LGBTQ+ people into a lived experience with them.  As I write in the Prologue to ‘Holy Love,’ I quickly realized that I was not at the meeting to give, but to receive.  And from that evening until now, LGBTQ+ people have been grace gifts to me and to Jeannie.  For one thing, they have offered us love and acceptance when other Christians have chosen to make us personas non grata.  But more than this, they have confirmed over and over the genuineness of who they are,the reality of their faith, the depth of their discipleship, the validity of their marriages, the winsomeness of their witness, and the effectiveness of their ministries. 
I have come to realize the truth of Walter Brueggemann’s belief that if we we are to change our view of LGBTQ+ people, it will occur not through biblical interpretation but rather from establishing friendships with them.  This is my story, and it is why I began ‘ Holy Love’ as I did.

In the ensuing years, I have grown weary of hearing Christians say, “We love the gays,” but then finding out they have no personal and ongoing relationships with LGBTQ+ people.  They do not have LGBTQ+ friends.  They do not attend conferences and other gatherings conducted by LGBTQ+ people.  They do not participate in community events that show respect to and support for LGBTQ+ people.  They are not affiliated with or involved in ecclesial and civic organizations devoted to overcoming LGBTQ+ discrimination and harm.  They are notoriously separated and absent from programs and places where their alleged positivity would be made real. Consequently, their “we love the gays” allegation falls flat on my ears, and it falls flat on the ears of LGBTQ+ people too.

In the letter of James, we find these words, “What good is it if people say they have faith but do nothing to show it?….Faith is dead when it doesn’t result in faithful activity” (James 2:14, 17).  Similarly, “we love the gays” mantras are dead when they prove to be words devoid of relationships.  And…it is impossible to claim we love anyone whom we do not protect from harm.

My meeting with “The Other Sheep” group turned affirmation into actuality, theology into friendships, revelation into relationships, content into community.  I cannot imagine what would have happened to my change of heart if it had remained theoretical.  I only know that experiencing the Word becoming flesh was essential.  Many of the people I met that evening continue to be good friends to Jeannie and me.  They—and those we have met since–are precious gifts. Thanks be to God!

So…….

(1) What ongoing relationships do you have with LGBTQ+ people?

(2) What LGBTQ+ people/ally gatherings do you attend?

(3) What ecclesial/civic LGBTQ+ advocacy groups are you affiliated with?

Relationships are the means of making things real.  Lived theology, not affirmed theology, is what makes faith genuine.


[1] Steve Harper, ‘Holy Love: A Biblical Theology for Human Sexuality’ (Abingdon Press, 2019).

[2] At that meeting there were also members of the “Open Arms” group at St. Luke’s United Methodist Church and some folks from other  faith communities in Orlando and elsewhere.

About Steve Harper

Retired seminary professor, who taught for 32 years in the disciplines of Spiritual Formation and Wesley Studies. Author and co-author of 31 books. Also a retired Elder in The Florida Annual Conference of The United Methodist Church
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