Archives For homosexuality

Timothy Tennent, president of Asbury Theological Seminary, is working within the United Methodist Church to affirm biblical authority in response to the progressive push to affirm homosexual practice and the ordination of those who identify as homosexual: The “Progressives” Are Desperate, the “Conservatives” Are Weary, but God Is Still Holy

I affirm strongly what Tennent writes, and appreciate greatly his labor in this area.

Here is the crux of the debate, as captured in Tennent’s first few paragraphs.

The United Methodist Church is in the full throes of a crisis, with deep divisions over our response to homosexual practice and the ordination of self-avowed homosexuals.  The latest attempt to resolve this crisis is a plan known as “a local option proposal compromise.”  This plan has emerged through the good faith efforts of a group of conservatives, progressives and moderates who have worked hard to find common ground.  The long awaited plan was finally released.  The basic thrust of the plan is as follows:

  1. We all agree to change the Discipline to say that “sincere Christians disagree” on the issue of homosexuality and we remove the language which says that homosexual practice is incompatible with Christian teaching. Congregations spend a year in prayer and discernment as to whether they will allow same sex weddings on their property or receive a practicing gay or lesbian person as their pastor.  A 2/3 vote would allow it.
  2. Pastors, even when churches oppose, may conduct same sex weddings off site.
  3. Congregations who cannot accept the new Discipline or the new practices in the church may, after a year of prayer and discernment, leave the church with a 2/3 vote.
  4. If a church leaves, they must repay any loans to the conference and also pay two years of apportionments in full.
  5. If the payment is made, the church retains their buildings and other assets.

In my view, this plan should be rejected.  Despite the cultural wave flowing against the church, the “progressives” have already been looking at the make-up of delegates who will be attending General Conference in 2016.  They do not have the votes to change the Discipline. The African delegates will be 3% higher than in 2012, and the U.S. delegation – as a whole – is actually more conservative than in 2012.  We must understand that the progressives agreed to this plan because they are desperate.  They also know that we are weary of fighting.  Of course, there will be more public shaming of the conservatives than ever before, and the demonstrations in Portland will be the stuff of daily news.  Welcome to life on the margins of a post-Christendom society.  But, we cannot forget that the Discipline will not be changed unless we can be enticed to cast our votes for that change.  This latest proposal is an attempt to find “a way forward” to get the conservatives to raise their hand and vote for a change in the Discipline.  This plan calls for an agreement by conservative delegates to permit homosexual practice and ordination in the church and then wait for a year before we can leave.  We then make a payment at the exit door (two years of apportionments) and receive our buildings as a consolation prize.

Brothers and sisters, it is never right to do wrong.

This is the discussion occurring in the United Methodist Church, which parallels the discussion in a number of other denominations. Some denominations, like the United Methodist Church, are still in discussion, with hopes that people will stand on the Rock, God’s Word, with decisions flowing from that truth. In some other denominations,the discussion is over and the decision has been made – for sexual and moral progressivism and against God and His word, biblical authority.

Thanks be to God this debate regarding biblical authority is not happening in the EFCA. Furthermore, while standing on the authority of the Bible, we seek to live, serve and love pastorally on the basis of that authority, which means, as we combine the orthodoxy with the orthopraxy, we are committed to being welcoming (of the person) but not affirming (of sinful behavior).

Homosexuality: Identity and/or Behavior?

Greg Strand – November 19, 2014 3 Comments

Wesley Hill writes about why addressing the homosexuality and same-sex morality is acutely challenging today, which is wrapped up in identity and behavior:

After spelling out a number of other moral issues with which Christians must grapple, e.g. divorce, Hill writes,

Why aren’t these kinds of moral commands and decisions treated with the same level of dismay that Christianity’s judgment about gay sex is?

Here’s the key, I think: It’s because gay and lesbian people perceive Christianity as not just asking for a certain modification or a certain disciplining of their behavior but rather for a suppression or erasure of their identities.

One of the ways this influences Hill is in nomenclature. He continues to refer to himself as a gay Christian. I am not yet convinced it is a good move, but I am willing to consider this further in light of my understanding of biblical anthropology, hamartiology and soteriology.

This is the assessment of Michael Schulman, “Generational ‘LGBTQIA’,” StarTribune (January 19, 2013), E.4-5, who writes: “Those who feel they don’t identify with traditional gender roles are creating their own.” Here is the main point of that article, which reflects Hill’s assessment above: “If the gay-rights movement today seems to revolve around same-sex marriage, this generation is seeking something more radical: an upending of gender roles beyond the binary of male/female. The core question is not whom they love, but who they are – that is, identity as distinct from sexual orientation.”

I think making sexual orientation the core of one’s identity is a significant misstep, a step away from the Scripture’s teaching. One’s sex – male and female – is part of what it means to be created in the image of God (Gen. 1:26-27), but that is quite different than gender (which is considered a social construct) and orientation (which is affected by the fall).

I have learned much from Hill, have much respect for him, and continue to hear, ponder and reflect upon what he writes. Though he does not necessarily agree with the statement made above, i.e. it is more a descriptive assessment than a prescriptive pronouncement, my sense is that making the heart of this one’s identity, and not just or primarily behavioral, continues to cloud and confuse the issue. But I also believe it is important to hear this because it is how others hear Christians!

In our culture today, one cannot affirm the biblical truth about morality and marriage without the accusation of being bigoted, biased and a hater. There was a day when one could say regarding homosexuality or same-sex “marriage” that we in our churches would be “welcoming but not affirming.” By this we would mean that we would welcome any and all as fellow image of God bearers and extend love and grace to them. But we would not affirm sin or a sinful lifestyle.

Today this statement no longer stands to those outside the church. In other words, if one welcomes, one affirms. And if one affirms, one welcomes. The two are made equal, they are joined together, and what has been joined together culturally, let not a church put asunder (sorry for the sad irony).

Is it accurate to claim that Christians are haters of gays and homosexuals? Is it true to claim that because Christians are welcoming but not affirming that they are not only passively not loving, but they are more actively bigoted or haters?

Robert George, who has done a great deal in defense of the biblical and traditional view of marriage, was asked about this in an interview for Salvo Magazine. Here is the question and George’s response.

SALVO: One conservative Christian recently wrote that in the battle for traditional marriage, “Christians too often chose intolerance over charity when it came to how they treated gays.” Have we, as Christians, demonstrated a lack of love for gay people?

Robert George: No, we’ve been falsely accused of showing a lack of charity and a lack of love because that was very convenient to the arguments of the other side, a very effective tool. In fact, the overwhelming majority of people of all faiths who’ve been involved in the protection of marriage have gone out of their way, as the Catechism of the Catholic Church goes out of its way, to proclaim the truth that all men and woman are precious. Human beings have a profound and inherent dignity, an equal dignity, as creatures made in the very image and likeness of the Divine Creator and Ruler of the Universe.

This has never been something hidden. It has been frequently affirmed and re-affirmed, yet there are those who wish to refuse to hear it because it’s politically useful to their cause to depict Christians as mean-spirited or bigoted or hostile to people just because they don’t like something about them. It’s a slander. And for us to pretend that the slander is true is itself a sin against the truth. I’m all for confessing error and wrongdoing where error and wrongdoing have been committed. But I see no point in confessing sins that one has not committed, especially when doing so is the precise objective of those who wish unfairly to tar people or a movement as bigoted or hostile.

I agree with George. What about you?

In response to the post on the bill which the governor of Arizona vetoed, “The Legalization of Same-Sex “Marriage,” Participation and Conscience,” a few key issues/questions are raised.

One addresses the issue of “participation” and what it means. Is participation merely a business deal, or can it also be considered support of/for, at least for some?

Another is an extension of this as it focuses on conscience and what that entails. Who determines this and who mandates the response

A final issue emphasizes the issue of marriage and what that means. If one does not ask personal questions about others who are being married to determine whether or not they live in sin, e.g. adulterers, is one not then being inconsistent, biased, prejudicial, to refuse business to a same-sex couple being “married?”

Here are further responses to these three important issues: participation, conscience and marriage.

The specific argument addressed a photographer who was wrestling with the question of how his conscience ought to factor in to making a decision about taking pictures for a wedding for those he knows to be involved in unbiblical behavior. Powers and Merritt’s argument was that if the photographer refuses to do one unbiblical wedding, then he ought to refuse to do them all, and to do anything other is to be a hypocrite.

This is not to suggest that the photographer or florist or baker is obligated to investigate thoroughly before serving at a wedding. They are not obligated or required to live by the same standards that I would as pastor doing my background research before performing a wedding service. They can in good faith agree to perform the service. But how does a conscientious believer respond in an instance when they know there are things going on that are deeply offensive to God and harmful to the couple? It is important to state that this was not about refusing to serve a gay person because they were gay. Rather it was a question of serving in a same-sex “marriage.”

One’s response in the case of a same-sex “marriage” (because I do not consider this a marriage, I include quotes) is a different matter. There is no way whatsoever that this is right. It is not a marriage, and any sexual union is immoral. There is no further background research that needs to be done because it is evident. How, then, should a Christian think about his/her decision to use creative gifts, given by God, in a way that he/she believes is dishonoring to God and harmful to others? Granted, there is some gray here. But the issue is this: should the state mandate, require by law that that person compromise his/her conscience under the threat of fines and penalties? I don’t think so.

To this, Powers and Merritt claimed that to compromise conscience it would mean that the government would force them to engage in behavior in which they did not believe. The defense is, according to them, “whether society really believes that baking a wedding cake or arranging flowers or taking pictures (or providing any other service) is an affirmation.” I believe they make two faulty statements here. First, they assume that simply baking a wedding cake or taking pictures would not be an affirmation of the couple or the wedding. They are entitled to that belief and response. But is it right to mandate that of all others under threat of the law? Second, their basis for arguing this is “whether society really believes” this. The problem with this is that true religious liberty is not what “society really believes” but what the baker or photographer or florist believes. If this decision rests in society, it dismisses what religious liberty has traditionally meant. Finally, I add a third, whether or not same-sex “marriage” is recognized legally or not, that does not mean Christians have to agree with the definition. It is not affirmed biblically or traditionally, the former being definitive and prescriptive, the latter more descriptive.

We may debate the best way to ensure that religious consciences are protected by law and courts (conscience). We may affirm the definition of marriage according to the Bible that is contrary to that defined by the law (marriage). We may also disagree about how we would counsel believers who are asking honest questions about how to live life to the glory of God in the marketplace, while loving their neighbor and being committed to being a godly witness who upholds the truth of God (participation). But claiming that those who are concerned not to sear their conscience, and to be forced to do so, as if they are resurrecting the Jim Crow laws is too much. It is a wrong analogy as race is not the same moral issue as homosexuality and same-sex “marriage.”

Bearing in mind conscience, participation and marriage, how would you respond? What counsel would you provide? Why?

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?