11 April 2012
Strait, Narrow and Gay
Strait, Narrow and Gay
One of the most famous injunctions for followers of Christ spoken by Jesus himself in the Sermon on the Mount is found in Matthew’s Gospel chapter seven and verse thirteen.
“Enter ye in at the strait gate: for wide is the gate, and broad is the way, that leadeth to destruction, and many there be which go in thereat: Because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it." Matthew 7:13,14
These verses tend to be used amongst Old Order and Conservative Christian church groups to specifically admonish believers to adhere to their particular ‘stripe’ of religious practice rather than that of other groups or the prevalent manner of living in ‘worldly’ society. Amongst many Fundamentalist and Evangelical conservative groups, the ‘Strait’ word has been commonly misunderstood and misinterpreted to mean ‘Straight’. This has led many to formulate concepts and opinions about how a Christian should live, and how one can ‘find life’ with God. Noah Webster, in 1828, clearly defined the English word ‘Strait’ as: Narrow; close; not broad, Close; intimate; Strict; rigorous; Difficult; distressful. Straight; not crooked. He also defined the word ‘Straight’ as: formed from the Latin root of reach, stretch, right. It is customary to write straight, for direct or right, and strait, for narrow - Right, in a mathematical sense; direct; passing from one point to another by the nearest course; not deviating or crooked; as a straight line; a straight course; a straight piece of timber; Narrow; close; tight; as a straight garment; Upright; according with justice and rectitude; not deviating from truth or fairness. Common misunderstanding of proper English word meaning and usage can certainly lead to false assumptions. Our modern culture has this embedded in the iconic expressions of being ‘right wing’ or a member of the ‘conservative right’. We also use the expression of someone ‘walking the line’ as being descriptive of correctly obedient behavior. In this particular scriptural text, the way for a true believer is not defined as ‘ a direct line of uprightness to glory, fortified by the travelers rectitude and dedication to truth’, but rather ‘a difficult, rigorously intimate and close entering into a narrow, sparsely traveled path’. To interpret these scriptures directly and in their most literal sense, Jesus could be understood to say that the gate on the way to eternal life is a difficult thing to find. It is toilsome, taxing, possibly dangerous and opens onto such a confined path that it probably isn’t traveled much by many. In the English language, a very narrow passage of water which is difficult to traverse is called a strait. Contrariwise, the wide gate must be very accommodating, comfortable and ‘user friendly’ due to its obvious opening onto such a broad path, accessibly traversed by multitudes. Such an old fashioned notion that, coming to God involves deep soul searching, radically altering one’s thinking to conformity with spiritual and biblical maxims rather than commonly held opinions, would be fairly consistent with a literal view of a ‘Strait gate and narrow way’. Following after a manner of living and thought which is so commonly held by most would also tend to be a fair understanding of the ‘wide gate and broad way’. Unfortunately, as has happened for so many centuries, people fail to accurately understand the meaning of what Jesus was actually saying. Who was he speaking to? What was he speaking about? In what context were these words actually spoken?
For centuries, church people have used biblical verses which condemn rape and abuse, as categorically proscribing all same gender sexual activity or relationships. This understanding and biased interpretation of certain scriptural references has been the acceptable social norm for the majority of Christian culture for many centuries. It has been the commonly expressed view of the broadest base of church theologians, and the widely received concept among most denominations. Along with these bent scriptural references has come a consistently hateful abuse and persecution of any who dared speak, believe or act in defiance of this most common tenet. It can be seen in the history of churches, especially in evangelized America, that the ‘strait and narrow way’ has been preached and understood as the clear alternative for all those considered to be degenerate, ungodly sinners. Preacher’s have railed against the vices of ‘ungodly’ society and the ‘crookedness’ of unrepentant transgressors for years. The ‘straightness’ or ‘circumspection’ of righteous daily living has been the Victorian cultural hallmark of evangelical Christianity for decades. Criminals and deviants from ‘acceptable societal norms’ have been epitomized as followers of the broad road to destruction. In actuality, when he spoke these words, Jesus sat amongst the lawyers and religious leaders of society, along with ‘god-fearing working class’ people. He was not preaching to ‘un-evangelized’ reprobates from heathen lands. The ‘strait and narrow way’ was something these religious people needed to strive hard to find, and the ‘broad way’ was something they comfortably and commonly practiced, that Jesus was warning them not to take.
One of the most controversial topics relating to this interpreting of the ‘Strait and Narrow’ is in regards to same gender attraction or the popularized term ‘Gay lifestyle’.
Conservative preachers and politicians are constantly admonishing against the failed morals of society, the ‘crookedness’ of evilly inspired legislators, and the general debauchery found on that broad road to destruction. Amazingly, many fail to see that it is the strait, difficult way to love and embrace others who might be different in some way from themselves. It is easy to side with a majority in support of commonly held notions and practices, and even comfortable to be counted with a majority against a minority. Jesus spoke to the majority about their lack of love for the minority, most markedly in the parable of the Good Samaritan. The Broad way was the wide gated path which most people traveled on, but the difficult ‘strait’ gate was the one which opened onto a narrow, less trodden down path. Love and acceptance of people for who, what and where they are is not an easy or comfortable thing to do. Allowing for people’s created uniqueness in sexuality and relationships, especially considering that some are born with a natural inclination and interest towards their own gender, is hard for many who do not understand this reality to accept or associate with.
In our modern day culture, the traditionalists and conservatives have ensconced themselves within the idea that they are surrounded on every hand by liberal minions of humanism. All too often they feel that Christians are falling away from The Faith and true believers are being deceived by socially infused false doctrines and practices. Many fail to see that adhering to the bias and received prejudices of the large and historically conservative majority of traditionalist Christianity could actually be positioning oneself in the broad way.
Jesus didn’t really devote his time of teaching to instruct people who had never heard of God, but rather he focused on those who were already religious and thought they knew God. Most Gentile believers in Jesus Christ have socially existed in ‘Christian’ nations for centuries, growing up with cultural understandings of God and his teachings from early childhood. The ‘majority’ of people one knows in society are adherents to greater or lesser extent within the acceptable ‘party’ line of Christian demeanor. Historically, to live outside of those basic parameters would have meant death for some, public humiliation, and a certain level of social shame. Today, especially amongst traditionalist and conservative churches, people still operate under similar circumstances, including individuals being consciously concerned of people’s opinions regarding their attire, standard of living, speech, education, social status, etc…. Humans are creatures of habit and we like to ‘herd’ together with those who share our interests and ideals. Only now in a more open culture is this widely understood and followed concept being challenged and questioned. A few brave souls have publicly stood for equity and respect in defense of same gender attracted individuals, even in the face of social ostracism. Good Samaritans have cared and provided for more and more individuals who have gradually come ‘OUT’ from hiding and openly embraced their natural identities as same gender attracted people.
The ‘Strait and Narrow’ way is more about the difficult and rare manner of love and sacrifice which emanates from a true pilgrim seeking to follow Christ, than one who ‘staightly’ follows a universally prescribed code of moral conduct decided by the majority of the religiously upright.
Understanding these things, one might ask the question: “How is it then possible for someone to be Gay and on the Strait and Narrow Way?” To that I would simply reply that any loving, humble and considerate person who chooses to live out the teachings of Jesus, even as immortalized by the actions of the Good Samaritan, can and most assuredly will be on the ‘strait and narrow way’, regardless of what gender they choose to love, humbly support or be considerate of during their journey of life.