The CBS show How I Met Your Mother (HIMYM) may be nearing the end of its run and waning in its popularity but it still has a lesson or two for its viewers. Case in point: today I found myself thinking about it as I read the initial chapters of Justin Lee‘s Torn. The men of the show have always been a grab bag of stereotypes. There is Marshall who has slept with one woman since his freshman year in college, his wife and the mother of his child, Lily. There is Ted, the romantic serial monogamist , has probably bedded something one woman each of the 9 seasons of the show. Then there is Barney, the playboy, who is capable of bedding multiple women in one half-hour show. Three men all with differently paced sexual lives. Three men whose sexual experiences differ in tone, tenor, and form. Yet we would have no problem with defining each of these men as heterosexuals, and perhaps would only discuss the rampant immorality of the one.
What’s the point? Each of these men is heterosexual. Each of these men is different. Yet in no sermons preached this weekend will you have a pastor attempt, elude, or even imagine that the sex life of Marshall is in anyway comparable to that of Barney. Why? The heterosexual men of the pulpit (and the occasional heterosexual woman) believe without a doubt that their Marshall-like lives are different from Barney and that they represent a Marshall standing against the deprivation that is Barney. Furthermore as they encourage their congregants to emulate the Marshalls of the world and call heterosexuality the best form of sex, they will do so while differentiating Marshall and even Ted from Barney.
Yet and here is the point.When the discussion switches to that of homosexuality such fine differentiations will quickly evaporate. In the opening pages of his book, Lee makes a point forcefully that perhaps is best illustrated by a question: ‘What would happen if HIMYM were to be redone as How I Met Your Father with Marshall, Ted, and Barney all being homosexual men?’ Could we ever believe in gay Marshall and Ted, or would we insist that every gay man is Barney. Lee argues that unfortunately to hear it said from the pulpit, there are no Marshalls and no Teds in the LGBT community.
Yet perhaps this is a mistake for those of us who call the Evangelical Church home. For me one of my principle values or strategies (if you will) is to seek out the areas of common ground (and not necessarily seek out the areas of disagreement). When we find ourselves potentially at odds with one another, the easiest way past the friction is to find the common good, and seek to build bridges there. Once one finds common ground, and works through those issues of agreement, trust is formed and that trust once built can be used to deal with the tougher areas of dispute.
As a heterosexual man who believes that there is a sacredness to our sexuality, I cannot say enough about my high value on the monogamous relationship. I believe, like Paul, in the importance of being a one-woman man. Yet as a Christian and minister of the Gospel I find myself more and more drawn into the fracas that is the Gay- Christian debate. Yet rather than proceed upon the premise that I am dealing with a large number of Gay Barneys; perhaps I should be looking out for the Gay Marshalls and gay Teds who also put a value on the one-partner ethic.
Perhaps we have a potential partnership of our own to establish; because here’s the deal. I think the Barneys (Gay or Straight) of the world are disparately and deeply unsatisfied with their choices of sexual practice. In fact HIMYM does a great job of showing the euphoria and the sadness that is Barney. These moments of sexual pleasure are thrilling and enjoyable but in the morning Barney awakes alone. For me the best arc of the show has not been the story of how Ted met his mate; or Marshall and Lilly making it work. The best arcs have always been able the maturation of Barney, and the ways in which Barney has sought to bring some lasting fulfillment to his sexual life.
That is the practical concern. Perhaps we can join forces with our like-minded Marshalls, and Teds seeking to partner in the process of learning how to find long-lasting fulfillment in our sexualities. We may have disagreements about other aspects of each other’s lives; but perhaps we can come to the table and agree to aid each other in this matter of agreement first. Maybe in working together we can find that neither of us is evil and neither of us is seeking to destroy the other; and in doing so we can build the kind of trust to have the harder discussions down the road.
Yet there is another area of importance (perhaps greater importance). When we compare us to the best of us and them to the worst of them we are making false and potentially damaging comparisons. We are speaking ill of others. We are spreading falsehoods. We are destroying reputations and lives. This is not the actions of Christ. The mischief, slander, and lies of this type of discussion fall more on the Satan-side of the spectrum.
Are there Barneys in the GLBT community? Absolutely. But are there Marshalls and Teds? Absolutely. However when we in the church center our discussion of our heterosexuality in terms of Ted; and center all discussions of the gay community in terms of Barney; we are doing a disservice to both groups. Perhaps we need to speak some truth to the Barneys in our congregations and talk honestly about how we as the straight community do not have it all together. Perhaps we need to also speak truly about the many good men, women, and transgendered in the LGBT community. Perhaps we might start by praising the men and women like Justin Lee who are attempting to live out a Christian sexual ethic (even if their attractions may differ from our own). By speaking the truth in love we might just be able to take a step in the right direction, and find a way closer to resolving this so-called Gay vs Christian dispute.
It might be the end. But it just might be the beginning for which we are all looking. It may also allow us to go forward in terms more approaching Jesus and the woman at the well than the Pharisees and the woman taken in adultery.