Whenever the Bible speaks about divorce, the ideal and the real both come into play. Jesus states the ideal when He says that “in the beginning it was not so.” But when the real happens, when divorces occur, regulations are given that protect weaker parties in a destructive situation. So Jesus is very strict in interpreting the ideal, but very compassionate in dealing with the real. In John 8:1-11, a women is caught in the act of adultery. The ideal would seem to call for harsh condemnation and punishment. Instead Jesus tells the woman, “I don’t condemn you, go and sin no more.” Jesus states the ideal in the most straightforward way (Matthew 19), but when confronted with the real, he is most gracious, compassionate, and surprisingly lenient. The same is true of Moses. He states the ideal in Genesis 2:24. Man and women are joined together, not to be separated. But in Deuteronomy 24:1-4 he states the real. Since divorces happen, here’s how to minimize the damage. We find the same pattern in Paul. In 1 Corinthians Paul six times states the ideal, then introduces the real with “but if.” In some cases celibacy is the ideal (Matt 19:11-12), even in marriage (1 Cor 7:1), but because of immorality (7:2) Paul encourages married sexuality. The ideal is for the unmarried to remain so (7:8), but in the real world marriage is generally to be preferred. The ideal for marriage is lifelong (7:10), but if someone leaves a marriage, there is a new ideal (7:11). Paul states the ideal as an absolute, but offers a backup plan for dealing with the real.
For Seventh-day Adventists it is interesting that you will find the same pattern in Ellen White. She is very strict and uncompromising when stating the ideal (for example, no divorce, marry someone close to you in age). But when faced with real situations, she was very accommodating and even lenient. In one case, church members were dealing with a situation in which a couple divorced and each married someone else in the church. The church leaders were demanding that the new couples divorce so the original pair could get back together again. When Ellen White was consulted about this situation she said, “Leave them alone, they have suffered enough.” Since Ellen White strongly advised that people marry close to their own age, some were stunned when she allowed her 41-year-old son to marry a 22-year-old girl. When confronted about the situation she retorted, “Best decision Willie ever made.” Individuals recognized as particularly close to God, therefore, consistently exhibited this pattern: state the ideal without compromise, but face the real with compassion and grace. The ideal is what the church teaches and what it should teach. But the real requires much understanding and compassion.
It seems to me that this pattern is relevant to the challenges people face when it comes to LGBTIQ, both those experiencing themselves as “different” and those dealing with them. LGBTIQ conditions are among the many ways in which the creation ideal is not worked out in this life. They are part of the real. While the church must always uphold the ideal, it must also deal with the real. And in the real world there is great need for understanding, compassion and grace, and not just for LGBT people. We have all failed to live out the ideal, so we are all in need of understanding, compassion and grace. The church must be to others what every member of the church needs as well.