Why Missiologists Ought to Address Homosexuality

Greg Strand – October 21, 2013 Leave a comment

Robert Priest presently serves as Professor of Mission and Anthropology at TEDS, our Free Church seminary. Priest received his MDiv degree at TEDS. After completing his doctorate and teaching elsewhere for a few years, he returned to TEDS in 1999.

We are today living during a time of a moral tsunami. One of the major tidal waves in this tsunami is homosexuality. Both the culture and the law are bending under the weight of the waves. As Christians we live under the Lordship of Christ under the authority of the Scriptures, we seek to live and respond in a manner that is Christlike and faithful. At last year’s EFCA Theology Conference, we addressed the broader theme of “The Theology of Human Sexuality” with a focus on homosexuality.

Though many have been addressing this issue, there has not been much said or done among missiologists. Priest recommends that change. Because of the calling and gifting of missiologists, they are in a unique position to address the issue of homosexuality, and to provide a significant voice to the discussion and to make an important contribution to the church.

Priest provides “Five Reasons Missiologists Should Focus Attention on Homosexuality.” I include Priest’s five reasons, along with a key excerpt from each of the longer statements.

First, it is the very purpose and nature of missiology to focus on variable cultural contexts around the world wherever ministry occurs. And one of the most dramatically influential cultural trends of our contemporary world, conditioning the contexts in which ministry occurs, is the trend towards new moral sensibilities, norms, and socio-legal arrangements involving homosexuality.  

Second, how Christians engage this topic affects the credibility of our witness. . . . missiology as a discipline retains a central focus on how to engage others through a positive witness of the gospel, how flexibly to work with people in the messiness of life, and historically has developed in relation to contexts outside of Christendom, where influence came through suasion, not political control.

Third, while missiology works to be biblical and theological, it nonetheless also retains a central focus on empirical and inductive research related to human realities.   Missiology is thus arguably the only discipline within theological education that systematically focuses on contemporary variable human realities, and that does so through a sustained use of social science methods and through sustained interaction with the wider theories of the human sciences. And this is precisely what is needed in this discussion.

Fourth, because of its comparative and global focus, missiology is well positioned to explore the extent to which our current conversations (both within our church settings, and in society at large) are parochial and based on culturally contingent assumptions. . . . No other discipline within theological education is better positioned to help us think about the global and comparative, than is missiology. But to draw from its strengths here, missiology must first become intentional about working on this topic.

Finally, missiology has been the theological discipline more than any other which is attentive both to possibilities of syncretism with cultural ideology on the one end, and healthy contextualization on the other. . . . That is, at the very core of the missiological mandate is the sense that culture and human context is something to be responded to both critically and positively, in the light of Scripture, but while being attentive to the possibility that our received interpretations of Scripture sometimes are less than faithful to Scripture, and may require further scrutiny and consideration.

Priest followed this post by addressing “Three Challenges to Overcome if Missiologists are to Appropriately Engage Homosexuality.”  He believes that missiologists could bring “real strengths to the topic, and that such a contribution would benefit the wider church.” In order for missiologists to benefit the wider church, Priest identifies hurdles to overcome, “three challenges we must address” in order to contribute to the discussion of the topic and to engage meaningfully with people.

Here are Priest’s three challenges in summary form:

Challenge #1: Inhibiting Forms of Spirituality. Many of us have been socialized to a form of spirituality that, once embraced, inhibits us from thinking about, talking about, writing about, and researching sexuality.

Challenge #2: The Lack of Prior Foundational Work. The topic of sexuality, and especially homosexuality, has been largely missing from our missiological course offerings, research agendas, professional meetings, and publications. This means that we have not been carefully nurturing the understandings that would position us well to contribute to the public debates of our society and of our churches.

Challenge #3: The Current Politicized Context.  It is often difficult for scholarship to proceed in the way scholarship should when a topic is highly politicized.

In Priest’s third challenge he writes, “If missiology is to address these realities in a way that is truly helpful, in addition to ‘intentionality,’ it will require at least three things,” which he identifies as “courage,” “patience,” and “respect.”

What do you think? Do you agree or disagree with Priest, or some of both?

Greg Strand

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Affectionately called “Walking Bible” by his youngest daughter, Greg Strand has a ministry history that goes back to 1982. Since that time, he has served in local church ministry in a variety of ministry capacities: youth pastor, associate pastor of adult ministries and senior pastor. He is currently the EFCA's Executive Director of Theology and Credentialing. Greg reads voraciously and never stops learning — a passion reflected in the overflowing bookshelves that spill from his library to multiple offices. And he could tell you about each of those books! His hunger for learning pales in contrast to his great love for God and for teaching the Word of God.

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