A couple of weeks ago the Presbyterian Church in America released the report of the Interim Committee on Sexuality. Since I have some friends in the PCA I wrote a response and I include it here. Because this was originally a stand alone response, much of what I wrote is a repeat of my last couple of blog posts.
Bridget Eileen Rivera at Meditations of a Traveling Nun has also written a response here that I think is very thoughtful and well done. She sees different, though not necessarily contradictory, problems and strengths of the report than I do and I highly recommend what she wrote. Anyway, here is my response:
Regarding the PCA Interim Report on Sexauality
When you are an 11 or 12 year old boy and start to realize you are attracted to other guys, you begin a journey of many years struggling with a multitude of questions.
Will my parents still love me or will they be ashamed of me? All too often, kids have overheard their Christian parents say things that certainly weight this question toward the latter.
What about male friends? If I have friends should I tell them I am gay? What if I tell them and they reject me? But if I don’t tell them am I being dishonest? Can you really be a friend if you are not honest with them? What if I fall in love with a friend? The Church says to avoid temptation. Maybe it would be best to just avoid friends.
Should I have female friends? Some gay guys have girl best friends. But what if they expect more from me than I can give them? Will I end up hurting them? Should I maybe avoid girls as friends too?
All the songs and books and movies around me are all about falling in love or finding the right person. They just make me feel lonely and left out because I fight so hard against falling in love. Will this be what it will be like my whole life if I choose to obey God? Will I always feel lonely and left out?
And, most importantly, what about God? I can pretend around my parents and my peers. But God knows everything. Is He disappointed in me? Do I disgust the God I love? My pastor and the other people at church say things about “gay” people that make me think God can’t love me. But is this true? Maybe, because I believe and am trying to obey him instead of living my sexuality, maybe I am different. Maybe I am not one of those “queers” the adults at church make fun of and despise. Can God love me?
Of course, you can’t actually ask your pastor that question. But you need to know, can God love you or is He ashamed of you too?
So you put the question to your pastor this way: “I know it is wrong for two guys to have sex. But is it a sin just to be gay? Is it a sin for a guy just to be attracted to other guys?” You are not asking for an abstract answer. You just want to know, “am I part of God’s church or not?”
I think you can guess what usually happens. The pastor answers by quoting something like Matthew 5 and that lust too is a sin, not just physical sins. And, by answering the question with, “yes it is a sin to be gay” says to you “God hates you and you are not really part of His church.” The pastor condemns a repentant teenager because he did not understand the context behind the question.
And this is the problem with the “Ad Interim Report on human Sexuality” recently released by the PCA. The question “Is it a sin to be gay?” always has a context, even if those asking and those answering are blissfully unaware of that context. It is simply impossible to ask that question in a vacuum. Yet that is what the authors of the report attempted to do. They attempted to answer the question without context. And as a result, even though the answer they gave was not wrong, it was, paradoxically, very very wrong indeed.
The Inherent Context of the Homosexual/Heterosexual Categories
To understand the inherent and inextricable context of the question “Is homosexual orientation a sin?” we have to go back around 150 years. For most of the history of the Church we had a concept that pretty much accurately reflected the biblical stance on same sex sexual intercourse. “Sodomy” expressed an action, not an internal “orientation.” It described a specific kind of sexual intercourse; anal or oral. And it probably did a far far better job of expressing the statements of Paul in Romans 1 than the modern word “homosexual.” Further, it was not limited to male/male intercourse but also, in many cases, condemned anal and oral intercourse between a man and a woman; which certainly better expressed the early fathers’ view of Romans 1:26 who saw the verse as broader than lesbianism and including any form of intercourse that was non-coital.
So how did we wind up dropping a perfectly good word that accurately expressed biblical thinking and the views of the early fathers for a mushy word like “homosexuality”?
In the latter half of the 19th century the Avant Garde thinking of the day was thoroughly atheistic and evolutionary. It was accepted, almost without question, among many of the leading thinkers and philosophers that there was likely no God and that life had certainly evolved by chance through a series of acquired and inherited traits from one generation to another. Of course, this gave rise to the question; “where, then, did human intelligence, consciousness and morality come from? How did they develop and what purpose do they serve?” The study of the mind and soul has always been of interest to philosophers but now it was imperative to explain these things without reference to a divine being or a spiritual realm. It was in answer to this question, specifically in an atheistic manner, that the roots of psychology grew. The focus of these psychologist was not so much on behavior as on the motives behind behavior. “Why do people act as they do?” Identity shifted from what one does or believes to a study of an internal experience of desires, wants and inhibitions. This is especially true of sexuality. “Why do some engage in and seem attracted to people, things and actions that are outside the norm for sexuality in society?”
The first occurrence of the words homosexual and heterosexual can be found in the middle of the 18th century. Used by a journalist named Karl-Maria Kentbeny they appear in a couple of pamphlets in which he argued that homosexuality is inborn and should not be punished by law. About the same time Westphal published “On Contrary Sexual Feelings” describing 2 or 3 cases of homosexual orientation he had found. For the next couple of decades “contrary sexual feeling” would vie with “inversion” and “homosexuality” as the name for this category of attractions with “homosexuality” winning out. This is important because Christians often have very muddy definitions of the word “homosexuality” when they use it; sometimes attempting to mean a sexual action between two people of the same sex and sometimes meaning the orientation. But you really can’t use the word outside its intended definition of describing and categorizing people by their internal sexual desires and attractions. By adopting the word, we adopted the categorical thinking it describes.
By the start of the 20th century, Darwinian evolution with its concepts of survival of the fittest and natural selection had overwhelmed the earlier theories of Lamark who saw evolution as a series of acquired traits passed on to an organism’s descendants. Darwin’s darker view of evolution proposed that stronger and better fitted members of a species increased that species’ chance for survival and advancement. By the same token, a species could be endangered and weakened by the less fit or defective members passing on their traits.
As a consequence, we see a huge increase in the popularity of the eugenics movement in the early 20th century dedicated to sterilizing, and even eliminating, those deemed the weaker members of society; a movement of which Nazi-ism was the logical outcome. The greatest crime a “defective” or “deviant” could commit was merely existing. Homosexuality went from being a mere curiosity for the early psychologist to being a threat to the survival and advancement of the human species. Laws began to reflect that; moving from merely being laws against behavior, as the Sodomy laws had been, to severely restricting the presence and participation of individuals in public life. In 1953, for instance, President Eisenhower signed executive order 10450 which barred people of a homosexual orientation from the military, from working in any branch of the federal government and even from working for virtually any company with contracts with the federal government. The order itself was not fully dismantled until the ending of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” under President Obama.
All of this is important to the topic at hand because the Church, by and large, seem to have accepted the new categorical paradigm of homosexual vs heterosexual. Perhaps, for some at least, the concept of “homosexual orientation” seemed to reflect the Christian concept of “original sin;” both concepts indicting an internal impetus before the commission of actual sin in thought, word or deed. But you can not accept the categorical thinking of homosexual/heterosexual without including the atheistic-evolutionary underpinnings of the categories.
The Consequences of the Homosexual/Heterosexual Categorical Paradigm
Because the homosexual/heterosexual dichotomy is inherently atheistic and ant-christian at its heart, the consequences of allowing it to fester in the Church have been severe
1) Whereas original sin includes and equalizes all people with the exception of Adam and Eve prior to the fall and Christ Himself; the division of homosexual/heterosexual automatically distinguishes people from one another, declaring one category “perverted” and the other “normal” or “healthy.” Where original sin uses God’s law as the rule against which we are all judged; homosexual/heterosexual gauges one person against another.
What this means is that, regardless of what the assembly had in mind when it asked the question, “Is homosexuality sinful?” what the vast majority of readers will perceive the question to actually be is “Is homosexuality sinful in comparison to heterosexuality as the norm and rule?” The categorical distinction of homosexual/heterosexual orientation villainizes one group of people and their desires and behaviors over and against the “normal” or “good.”
For instance, you, as a father, catch your 14 year old son looking at pornography. Regardless of what disciplinary actions you take, as you explain to your son that women are not meant to be objectified as they are in pornography, you will also likely convey to him that, although his actions were wrong, he is facing a temptation you and all men face and that Christian men, also, struggle to overcome. So while he is told that his temptation is toward something wrong and, perhaps, even a result of being a sinner, he is, nevertheless, assured that he is in a fellowship and brotherhood of others who face and strive to overcome similar temptation. He is not in this alone. He has those who can mentor and guide him.
What if, however, you caught your son viewing gay pornography? Will you give him a similar talk, calmly explaining to him that men are not supposed to be objectified? Or will you, let’s be honest, freak out? Suddenly your kid is not like all the men in his life. Suddenly he is “not normal.” Now he is weird, different, queer. He has neither mentor nor brother to help him figure things out. He is alone. This was really the impetus behind so many of us who attended Exodus. It was not just a matter of overcoming temptation. We desperately wanted to be “normal.” We longed to trade in one temptation for another – which is really weird when you think of it from a biblical perspective, that one temptation toward sin should be “good” and another”weird.” But this is precisely what was done by the cultural acceptance of homosexual/heterosexual. It took those who experienced one temptation rather than another and isolated them and labeled them “perverts” regardless of their beliefs and choices. It is not a comparison to the standard of God’s law but to the standard of other people. And the Church bought it hook, line and sinker; judging gay people not for merely facing temptation but for the type of temptation they faced. Kind of weird when you think about it.
But the homosexual/heterosexual distinction takes it one step further. While villainizing one orientation, it also sanitizes the other. Just as bad as the negative judgment on a teen boy that, because he is attracted to other boys, he is a source of shame to the parents and God he loves, the glorification of heterosexual attraction causes at least as much, if not more damage. In an atheistic-evolutionary world view where the goal is the advancement of the species, falling in love and creating the next generation is the highest good. Young men and women of the last 100 years or so have been fed a lie that falling in love is necessary to marriage and to happiness while many things the Bible would have soundly condemned are, if not sanctioned, at least seen as “a normal part of sexual development.” In the last century Lust has been enshrined as the highest virtue in our culture and the Church, while occasionally mewling against it, has not only been silent but often complicit in supporting the apotheosis of romantic love. And so the dichotomy exacerbates the metal separation of “gay” as “perverted” and “straight” as “healthy.”
2) Whereas original sin declares all worthy of death; homosexual/heterosexual judges some to be less worthy of living. As I said before, once Darwinian struggle of the species was added to the concept of evolution, the greatest crime a “pervert,” “defective” or “lesser race” could commit was simply existing. I would someday like to get a group of conservative gay Christians together with a group of straight Christians and ask both groups the same question: “as a teen did you often think the world would be better off if you were not in it?” I suspect very few straight Christians would answer “yes” but equally few gay Christians would answer “no.” Again and again, when I talk to gay people and read gay autobiographies, I hear existential shame, shame and self hate for their own existence. It is a kind of shame I seldom hear from straight people with the occasional exception of a straight person who was sexually molested as a child. In fact, when I read reports similar to this one from various official denominations’ committees similar to this one I can only conclude that the members of the committees knew and talked to very few same sex attracted believers. If they had, they would know that, regardless of how they label themselves, the question “is homosexuality a sin” had been answered for most of these people so firmly in the affirmative that they honestly feel the only thing they could do that God would approve of is to die. I know, I know, straight Christians don’t think they really want gay people to die. But when we look at the kind of legislation and social messages Christians send, it is clear that the modern Christian stand against homosexuality is really a stand against persons instead of behavior or belief – we will illustrate this later. And kids truly do pick up on the image of themselves reflected by their Christian parents and leaders. It is this, I suspect, far more than bullying or unhappiness, that makes LGBT kids so prone to suicide. Suicide is, after all, the ultimate statement of self hate and shame for existing. And this shaming of people for existing is, frankly, inextricable from the homosexual/heterosexual dichotomy and the paradigm that spawned it. You simply can not maintain the categories of homosexual/heterosexual without including the existential shame resulting from the atheistic-evolutionary pattern of thought.
What is even scarier and should be understood and contemplated by pastors is that the existential shame created by a false and man-made category is untouched by the grace and the Gospel of justification. Christ’s death and resurrection provide the answer and forgiveness for sins against the Law of God. It does little to alleviate the results of being judged and compared to man’s prejudices. In fact, it can even turn the Gospel into Law and condemnation.
Perhaps this is easier to understand using a parallel illustration from a similar situation. I suspect we have all heard stories of catholic boys who were molested, went to a priest in the confessional, and instead of being helped were given penance to perform and given absolution.
The problem here is not that the kids were offered forgiveness but that they were offered nothing else. Yes, the victims has probably done things for which forgiveness is needed. Sexual predators are very good at getting their victims to take an active part in their own molestation. And the child victim does need to know that this has not made God love them any less – that is what forgiveness is all about. BUT…..predators are also very careful to make sure their victims feel primarily to blame for the violation of their own bodies. They will talk in terms of “we.” “Don’t tell your parents what WE are doing.” “People would not understand how WE love each other.” And they will often use affection as an exchange for sex while isolating their victim from appropriate sources of affection such as parents or peers. This makes the child feel as if he or she wanted sex when, in fact, what the child was seeking was human affection. All this has the effect of creating a paradigm in the child’s mind that he or she is the one to blame, the one who is responsible for his or her own abuse.
When such a child is offered forgiveness but that forgiveness is not carefully explained AND the child is not helped to understand that it was the fault of the perpetrator who used and manipulated the victim AND nothing is done to punish or bring the perpetrator to justice (the primary failing in the whole RCC scandal) then forgiveness ceases to function and actually becomes harmful. By offering absolution alone, without any further action, the priest in the example above has left the paradigm invented by the predator in place. He has, in fact solidified it and made it real by saying to the child “you are indeed responsible for this situation and in need of forgiveness for being a victim.” Forgiveness offered in this manner and under these circumstances does not offer relief from guilt. All it does is intensify shame.
The same is true of homosexuality. By maintaining a false atheistic-evolutionary narrative inherent in the homosexual/heterosexual category, the Church sets the young, same sex attracted believer up so that the Gospel of forgiveness becomes further condemnation. It is confirmed for him that he is a source of shame for his pastor, his Church, his family and his God because he is being offered forgiveness not for the ways in which he has failed to be like Christ, but for the ways he has failed to be like you.
Here is where the interim report almost hit the mark but didn’t quite get it. Really, the response to the question “Is homosexual orientation sin?” Should have been: “that is the wrong question because the question itself assumes a distinction in value between homosexual temptations and heterosexual temptations that the Bible never discusses.” While the report makes a few, rather feeble, attempts to bring in heterosexual temptations as also arising from original sin, they largely fail because it leaves the categorical paradigm untouched. The reality is that orientation is irrelevant. For every single one of us, of the 6 billion people in the world, God says we can not have sex with 599,999,999 of them. And, as far as the one that we may have sex with (yes a person of the opposite sex) to feel sexual desire for them prior to the marriage is also a product of the sin nature. The only place and time that sexual desire is appropriate and God pleasing is WITHIN a lifelong marriage between one man and one woman. (even the Song of Songs is placed after the engagement which, in ancient Israel, constituted a marriage) All else is disordered. Feeling sexual desire for a person of the opposite sex to which one is not married is just as objectively disordered as same sex desire in that the object of that desire is someone you can not have sexual relations with. So also sexual desire for one’s fiance is disordered. It is temporally disordered in that it occurs prior to the marriage. And even much sexual desire within marriage is disordered when it is used or wanted for the wrong purpose, for instance, a desire to dominate the other. Here it is teleologically disordered in that its goal is wrong. Yes – the report pointed this out but not to the degree of actually deconstructing the categorical thinking behind the question and it is this deconstruction which must happen.
So the report fails, not because it says homosexual desire is a result of the sin nature, but because it does not go deep enough and undo the atheistic-evolutionary category itself by undoing the deification of Romantic love and heterosexual sanctification.
The Creation of a Gay Identity Among Christians
The Committee was also asked to consider the propriety (or not) of a Christian referring to himself or herself as a “gay Christian.” As with the categories of hetero/homo sexual this, too, was the wrong question. Whatever other stated intent a person may have for adopting the label “gay” a primary reason why many call themselves gay is as a reflection of an identity already given to them by the Church. When you are a kid and you realize you are attracted to the wrong sex, neither culture nor society contribute nearly as much to your sense and vision of yourself as your parents and your faith. Even in this day and age when we bemoan the anti-Christian direction of much of our society, teens still put a great deal of weight on the opinions of their parents and value their morals and goals far more than that of the culture. And for those of us who see ourselves as “gay” it is an expression of the identity that was formed for us by our Christian mentors, parents and leaders. This is important so let me emphasize, A PERSON LABELLING THEMSELVES “GAY” IS NOT THE PROBLEM! The problem is the Church atmosphere that makes such an identification necessary.
I would like ask the authors of this report how they would react in 5 different situations, fairly common situations I have not only experienced myself but have heard of similar experiences and similar situations from many other same sex attracted people:
1) You are at a meeting where there are several leaders of your denomination; pastors or elders. One well respected pastor makes a crude comment about homosexuals. What do you do or say? Or, since you have probably experienced this one already, what did you do or say?
2) A few years ago the Boy Scouts decided to admit gay boys. What did you say or write about that decision at the time?
3) The local high school is considering and anti-bullying program because of the high percentage of suicides among gay and non-binary students. The program includes penalties such as suspension and even expulsion for ridiculing or threatening a fellow student for their sexual orientation or gender identity. What will you do?
4) Your education committee is considering Sunday school teachers for the coming year. Someone on the committee puts forward the name of a single young man in the Church as youth leader because he gets along well with the youth. This young man, however, has confessed to you that he is same sex attracted. What will you do? Will you allow him to be a youth leader? Just as important, what will you say to the committee to explain your reluctance if you do not feel he should be a leader because of his “orientation”?
5) What did you say about the recent supreme court decision expanding federal legislation forbidding hiring and firing on the basis of sex to include protections for gay and transgender individuals?
Now the real life situations and how they form identity:
1) Several years ago I was in a meeting with several pastors and church leaders from our denomination’s local circuit. The Supreme court had recently ruled that same sex marriage was legal in all states. A pastor, who was obviously well liked and respected by the other pastors, joked that maybe we should wait on court house steps with shot guns and lovingly shoot homosexuals coming to get married. No pastor said a thing. I drove home with my own pastor (not my current pastor) who said to me that he had felt very uncomfortable with that “joke.”
A similar situation a year or two before, a friend and his wife hosted an end of season party for their child’s soccer team and the kids’ parents. Among the parents were two lesbian women who were the mothers of one of the children. Another parent made a series of rude remarks about “queers.” After the party my friend and his wife apologized to the two lesbian mothers that they had heard such garbage and assured the women that they did not support such anti-gay views.
I am quite sure both my former pastor and my friend thought they were being supportive in distancing themselves from such jokes and comments. But the question in my mind both times was “then why did not you not say something at the time and in public? Why wait till you were in private to express disagreement with crude and cruel jokes and comments?” To the same sex attracted person, such behavior sends the message that, as persons, we are not worth the political liability defending us in public would cost. Would you allow similar jokes about a person with a handicap? Or would you have spoken? The difference is that a person with a handicap is a political plus – it is popular today to defend them. But in the Church homosexuality is a political negative. You are risking something to defend us. And the message is clear that our Christian leaders regard us as “homosexual” and homosexuals are not worth the risk of public defense.
2) The Boy Scouts formally forbade homosexual boys from joining in the mid to late 70s. Initially, as a kid, it sort of made sense to me. Maybe, because I was gay, I would present some kind of temptation to other boys. That was until I learned from a friend that there was actually a lot of sexual experimentation among the boys on some of those camping trips. But it was seen as “no big deal” because “adolescent boys are curious and it will soon pass.” My presence as a gay kid would have added almost nothing to the sexual activities among the other boys. The reason I and other boys like me were excluded was simply to make a statement: “homosexuality and homosexuals are bad” To me it sent the message that I was so disgusting that a kid like me should not be allowed to learn to tie knots or make campfires with my peers.
In 2013 the Boy Scouts voted to allow gay kids as members. A great deal of what was said by Christian leaders made it quite plain that the decision was unpopular among conservative Christians. But there was little ever said beyond “to allow gay kids to join would send a message of approval for homosexuality.” One Christian leader posted on several discussion blogs that the BSA was now “the boy sodomites of America.” Many in the Church publicly proclaimed that to express the sinfulness of an action we needed to exclude kids, kids who probably were not sexually active and might not even have yet made any decision what to do about their sexuality, kids facing many of the same issues and more as any boy in the Scouts. There was no logical reason for the exclusion unless one accepted the idea that homosexuality defines a person and that kids so defined were disgusting enough to exclude them from normal association with other boys. To the gay kid the message was clearly: “your personal worth is being judged on the identity the Church has accepted for you as ‘homosexual’ and your personal worth is less than 0.”
3) In the 1930s the Hayes code forbid homosexuals to be portrayed in any positive way in the movies. However, it was still permissible to portray villains with stereotypical “gay” mannerisms. If you look at many of the typical “villains” in film, they tend toward the flamboyant and effeminate in dress and mannerisms. Meanwhile the heroes tend toward the stereotypical “masculine” if a boy or “feminine” if a girl. What message does that send to the pre-adolescent boys on the playground? Movie after movie the “sissy” or “flamboyant” is the “bad guy” to be defeated. At home and church they hear comments about “gays” and “fags” and realize that somehow such things are tied up with the effeminate actions of certain people. Gradually boys are socialized to see the slightly effeminate or shy peer as not only being “different” but as being inherently “bad.” The movies, of course, are not the only source of such socialization, of course. Far from it. But they both express and form public opinion of those who don’t quire meet gender expectations. And that is lived out on the playground as bullies pick on those not only less able to defend themselves but less able to expect adults to defend them as well.
I know one gay man who, as a boy, tried to find a different way home from school every day to avoid the boys waiting to beat him up. At home his father was extremely abusive. This kid had literally no place he felt safe. He lived constantly on guard and constantly afraid some one was about to hurt him. Yet, not one adult stood up for him and, in some cases, teachers even watched and did nothing as the other boys bullied him. (the excuse being that he should “man up” and defend himself) I honestly don’t know how he survived, many don’t. But I certainly consider him one of the bravest individuals I ever met.
The reality is that LGBT kids do face temptations to suicide and at hugely higher rate than straight kids and much of it has to do with they ways they have been treated by other kids and the adults in their lives. They DO need protection while at school. They do need to feel they are safe.
But would you, as a pastor, speak out in favor of attempts to protect them? Or would you, like my friend’s teachers, remain silent? Or would you even speak out against such efforts on the grounds they “created a protected class”? And what message about their personal worth will your actions or inactions send to the same sex attracted kid in your pews?
4) About 4 years ago my pastor (again, not my current pastor) gave approval to the Sunday school superintendent to ask me to lead a teen Bible class. I was surprised because my pastor knew I was gay and celibate. But since he knew and gave his approval anyway, I accepted. Several months later and about a week before the class was to begin, however, my pastor changed his mind and told me he did not want me to teach the class after all. Canceling at the last minute, and giving the excuse that he had “concerns about me working with youth” led to what anyone with half a brain could have predicted, especially since the whole RCC scandal of sexually abusive priests was still a popular topic of discussion. Two different people asked me questions like: “are there any, um, problems with youth you used to work with?”
If you choose to keep a same sex attracted member of your congregation from interacting with the youth, what are you going to say? Are you going to take his reputation into account? How will you choose your words. Is he important enough to you and worth enough to God that you will not simply say “well I have some concerns about him working with youth?” Because if you trash his reputation he will not tell you about it. You will never know what damage you did. And he will receive a clear message from you that, because he is gay, he is not worth having his name protected by his pastor.
5) Do you recall a few years ago when World Vision decided to allow people in same sex relationships to work for the organization. 10,000 sponsorship were lost in less than a week. Why? When you looked at the jobs impacted by their decision (they were only going to hire gay people for stateside work) it was all accountants and clerical staff. Is there any particular theological reason why a church should not hire a gay person to sort mail or handle finances? And is hiring gay people to do such things so severe that Christians should respond by treating the sponsorship of a child as if it were no more than an HBO subscription? The reality is that those Christians who dropped their sponsorships of children were making a “statement.” But is it really a statement we should have been making?
I will readily agree that the Supreme Court overstepped its authority in broadening the 1967 law protecting people from discrimination based on sex. But Christians have seldom limited their vocal response to the niceties of the constitution. Instead, I hear all kinds of complaints about the LGBT agenda and dire predictions that God will judge this nation. I have yet to hear a single response of compassion from conservative Christians for those who fear losing jobs if their employer finds out they are gay or same sex attracted.
Are we so busy making social statements that we have forgotten to care about people?
Obviously these examples are neither comprehensive nor exhaustive of the messages a same sex attracted believer receives from his Church and his pastor. They are simply illustrations of the multiple ways the Church says to the same sex attracted believer; “we see you as ‘homosexual’ and because we see you as ‘homosexual’ we also see you as unworthy of affection, inclusion, defense or mercy.”
In reality, very few such situations are black and white and by treating them as if they were we send a message that the person is both unloved and unlovable and mewling that we “truly love people by calling them to repentance” (which is often the rather lousy excuse I hear after some conservative internet radio personality has just excoriated gay people without compassion) does not undo the message of animosity the Church sends to those within her walls who are same sex attracted.
So the real question should not have been the propriety (or not) of a Christian referring to himself or herself as a “gay Christian” but “how has the Church significantly contributed to the formation of a gay identity in many of our members and how have we created a sense of personal worthlessness and shame in such members?”
For instance, if my pastor (in situation #4 above) had come to me and told me his concerns about me leading a youth Bible class early enough I could have found a way to back out that did not wind up with my reputation being trashed. Those of us who are attracted to our own sex are very aware we represent a political mine field for our pastors, even though we may be faithfully celibate. We know that you may need time to adjust. We would be willing to work with you to find answers in most instances if given a chance. But my pastor was too much of a coward to talk to me. Instead, he made a decision without involving me and then waited till the last moment to inform me about it. In doing so he treated me like a problem to be solved and removed rather than a person. And he set up a situation where the one place I should be able to find the comfort of Christ is the one place I feel shame and fear being seen as a pervert. For the last several years I have come to church late and left soon after the service is done in order to minimize my interaction with other members of the congregation. And I have not taken communion in a year and a half because I can’t stand walking to the front of the congregation to receive it. I literally feel nauseous doing so (though I lied to the pastor and said the wine gives me a headache).
So, has the Church really treated gay people as people? And if not, if we have treated homosexuality as a problem, what message and what identity do we give to those who experience same sex attraction? The “gay identity” is not created by the gay person. It is forced on them by their fellow Christians. It is not going to be solved by the individual abstaining from calling themselves “gay” but by the Church no longer thinking of them as such. So the question put the burden of the answer on the wrong set of people. The question should have been redirected to the Church.
Real Apologetics re Sexuality
According to the report the committee was also given the assignment to suggest ways to articulate and defend a Biblical understanding of homosexuality, same-sex attraction, and transgenderism in the context of a culture that denies that understanding.
I am not going to say a lot about the committee’s report on this issue because, frankly, apologetics is kind of useless on this subject. The fact is that very few people have come to accept gay relationships based on the reasoning put forth by the culture and very few will come to a biblical understanding of sexuality based on any reason the Church sets forth. Apologetics is essentially irrelevant here.
People have come to embrace same sex relationships because they knew one or more lgbt people who tried very hard to obey the Church and simply wound up feeling ashamed, isolated, lonely and miserable. Feeling bad for their relative or friend, people embrace gay relationships because it seems the only way for a lgbt person to have a full, happy and satisfying life.
The best apologetics, therefore, is make sure that gay Christians who strive to follow the biblical teaching on sexuality are not left out and isolated but are truly welcomed as part of the community of believers and made to feel wanted and loved and that gay people outside the Church are treated with respect and kindness.
To this end, the section of the report titled “Singleness, Friendship, and Community,” though I do not agree with everything in that section, is, for the most part, a far better method of apologetics than the attempt under “Apologetic Approaches For Speaking To The World.” I will add, also, that it is probably the most comprehensive approach to actual ministry to same sex attracted people I have seen in any denomination. I do think that, for once, this is a report that give more than lip service to the need of providing a Christians family to those who are same sex attracted.
I do hope that section of the report will be read, discussed and eventually expanded on significantly because it is, in many ways, the deepest heart of the matter.
When a gay affirming person comes out to his Christian parents and family the initial reaction may be mixed or highly negative. However, most of the time, his family will find a way to adjust and will eventually include him and his boyfriend or spouse in family activities and the relationship with his family will actually grow closer. In many instances I have seen Christian parents become even more gay affirming than their out and affirming child.
But, if a person has chosen celibacy and “comes out” to his Christian family, the result is likely to be the opposite. The initial reaction will generally be positive. But because the issue of sexuality is a difficult one and because it is not being forced on the family by the presence of a sexual partner, it is all too easy to simply avoid the topic altogether. So he and his family will seldom if ever discuss what is probably the most momentous and difficult decision in his life. His choice for faithfulness through singleness against his temptations will likely never be mentioned. As a result, the relationship may, as I have observed among my celibate friends, grow more distant that it was before.
The pastor and the Church need to keep in mind, therefore, that the Church itself may form the primary family relationship and experience for the celibate gay believer. You, as a pastor, may feel satisfied that you are ministering to this person because he comes to church and maybe a Bible study. But is that the sum total he needs from his Christian family? Calling to a discipleship of obedience and sacrifice can not be all that the Church does for such people. What does a person need from a family? If he alone once he gets done with work for the day or does he have people from the Church he feels comfortable just “dropping by to visit”? Is he coming to fellowship activities? If not, that might be a sign he does not really feel wanted or welcome. Is he willing to tell you how he has been hurt by Christians in the past? Have you ever really had a conversation with him beyond making sure he is still sexually abstinent? It is one thing to say, abstractly, that the Church should provide a sense of belonging. But it is a big step from proposing the concept of offering fellowship and inclusion and actually doing so. I hope the denomination will take the step from proposal to action.
If the Church can learn how to provide a rich sense of fellowship and belonging and respect for same sex attracted believers, this would be the best apologetic and evangelism – far better than any reasoned approach to the discussion I have ever seen – and I have seen a lot. So while the apologetic offered is not bad, if the accompanying offer of fellowship never moves from proposal to actuality, it will be kind of pointless.
In conclusion, I will say that this report did at least try to understand the experience of same sex attracted individuals and I do believe the writers are sincere in their desire to help. But they were hampered by the questions they were asked.
Instead of being asked “Is homosexual orientation a sin?” the correct question would be, “how does the Church work to eradicate such atheistic-evolutionary categories from her ministry?”
Instead of asking whether a Christian may call themselves gay, the committee should have been asked how the Church has created a “gay identity” in many of its members and how can that be resolved?
Instead of being asked for an apologetic on marriage and sexuality, the committee should have been asked how the Church itself can be family for those who are isolated because of their orientation or gender identity questions.
In the last town I lived in there was a young person who was transgender. They had been born a boy but were transitioning to female in the last year of high school. She worked at a local store I often visited and knew I was a conservative Christian and so I tried very hard to smile and be friendly in conversation with her. It did not work. Whenever she saw me come in her face filled with fear bordering on terror. It is this fear and this misery the world is trying to address by approving of gay marriage and sex transition efforts. If we can not do better at helping and loving people than the world, our message will mean little. It is going to cost more than proposals and wishes of fellowship. It’s going to be politically messy and costly in many ways. But it will have to begin with getting to the root of the corruption and eradicating the false narrative of homosexual vs heterosexual, not in those who experience same sex attraction and may label themselves “gay,” but within the Church itself and her discussions on the subject. I don’t know that it will happen. The condemnation of people as homosexuals for facing a unique temptation has so long been a shibboleth in modern Christianity that rooting it out is going to hurt – big time. But beginning the discussion would be important and it would be a true blessing were that to happen.