Archives For homosexuality

Exodus International – Again

Greg Strand – June 25, 2013 2 Comments

I thought it important/helpful to link to a couple of additional responses to the end of Exodus International’s ministry. These responses come from two who have been on the front-lines of this discussion and ministry, in their lives and writing.

Stan Jones, one of the speakers at last year’s Theology Conference, wrote an excellent response: “Exodus in the Wilderness.” Jones addresses Alan Chambers’ apology, President of Exodus International. He comments on something that was right about the apology which reflected theological maturity, and also something that reflected theological drift.  

Chambers’s impassioned apology reflects many elements of appropriate maturation in the theological and practical vision of Exodus. But while apologies can reflect godly repentance, even well-meaning apologies sometimes can go awry. We can misjudge or overshoot in our apologies. As such, Chambers’s statement reflects aspects of theological drift and a capitulation to a prevailing culture that is unbecoming to an organization grounded in scriptural truths.

What was right? Chambers apologized that some have been hurt by actions of some leaders and ministries of Exodus. He also apologizes for the pain inflicted by the Church. Jones addresses this in much greater detail.

What was wrong, and reflected theological drift? Jones notes three matters (I note only the major points).

First, Chambers states that the “good that we have done at Exodus is overshadowed” by the hurt it has inflicted. The problem here is that all of the good ever done by or in the name of the church has been clouded by its brokenness and fallibility. All of our good deeds are contaminated by our human limitations and brokenness.

Second, Chambers’s own reticence about stating his moral commitments combined with the determination of the Exodus board to form a new organization with a goal to “reduce fear” suggest a capitulation to cultural non-judgmentalism and the prevailing view that moral concerns about homosexual unions are nothing but “homophobia.” The historic teachings of the Scriptures and the church on sexual morality have not been driven by fear, but by the words of God spoken to the prophets and apostles.

Third and finally, Chambers states in his preface to his apology that his beliefs do not center on sin but “around grace, the finished work of Christ on the cross, and his offer of eternal relationship to any and all that believe.” Chambers seems to be alluding to a prior controversy that may mark the crux of the matter.

This prior controversy concerns statements Chambers has made that “nothing, not even sexual immorality, can ever separate us from the love of God. This seems contrary to the biblical witness of Christ himself [who] promises to separate the sheep from the goats, or of the apostle Paul who proclaims that ‘the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God’ (1 Cor. 6:9).”

Jones concludes with “profound sadness” not only about the demise of this ministry, but the reasons for its death, and the bitter fruit that it will bear.

I learned the news of this most recent chapter in the journey of Exodus with profound sadness. At this point, the journey seems to have led into a wilderness in which it will be hard to reap a fruitful ministry that truly honors Christ.

Wesley Hill, who also spoke at our Theology Conference, also shared some helpful reflections as one who has struggled with same-sex attractions, and who did not fit the “Exodus” stereotype (this is one of the issues upon which I commented in my post last week, which is why I invited Wesley to speak at our Conference, “After Exodus, What?” Hill notes the appropriateness of Chambers’ confession about contributing to a certain narrative, that was rooted in their notion of “reparative therapy.”

There are two other items that are important to hear Wesley address. The first is his own narrative which did not reflect the “reparative therapy” narrative expected of all who became associated with their ministry.

Like many younger people who are Christian and gay, I have shied away from much of what flies under the banner of Exodus and its affiliates. I was never involved in an Exodus group of any sort, in part because so many of their public statements led me to believe they were addressing themselves to people with rather different histories than mine. When I heard ex-gay accounts of the origins of same-sex attraction—accounts that focused on absentee or distant fathers or failure to bond with same-sex peers in childhood—I realized I was hearing stories that were pretty removed from my experience. I was raised in a very loving two-parent family, and the “father wound” narrative never illumined the possible causes of my homosexuality as it seemed to do for others. And I discerned, however inchoately, however rightly or wrongly, that if I were to join up with an “ex-gay” ministry, I would feel some degree of pressure to conform my narrative to theirs.

The second important item about which Hill writes is that even though Exodus is no more, and some of what will be gone is good, there is still a significant need for vital and strategic ministry to those Christians who live with same-sex inclinations and who affirm the inerrancy and authority of the Scriptures, and who are committed to the Lordship of Jesus Christ and to live lives of purity. What is needed is pastoral ministry to brothers and sisters that will allow them – and us – to flourish, not just survive.

But what we still need, and what I most want to be involved in myself, is pastoral ministry to those who say, “I experience ongoing, nearly exclusive same-sex attraction, I don’t expect ‘conversion’ to heterosexuality, I don’t expect to be married, but I want to live within the boundaries of the traditional Christian teaching on marriage and sexuality, and I want to flourish, not just survive. And I need help to do that.” There are a lot of us in that boat. We do need help. And there’s now a gap to be filled with—what, exactly? an organization? a regular conference? ministry houses? intentional communities? parish small groups? something more, at least, than what Exodus often was—to help meet that need.

What will that be? Where and how will it happen? What role is the local church to have in this ministry?

I think the local church – which is made up of individuals, brothers and sisters – is absolutely critical to this ministry in this new day. What might God be calling you to be, to do?

Exodus International Shuts Down

Greg Strand – June 21, 2013 2 Comments

As announced by Alan Chambers, President of Exodus International, the ministry of Exodus International has “shut down.”  They formally terminated the ministry on Wednesday evening. Chambers was interviewed about the ministry, its history, the decision to end the ministry, and a new direction for a future ministry in The Atlantic. Christianity Today included a report on their blog.

In many ways, in light of some of the comments made last year by Chambers in Christianity Today, I am not surprised to hear this. That seemed to be an incremental step in this direction.

My concern with the ministry of Exodus International in the past was their strong sense of “reparative therapy” such that what they meant by it was that the only true healing for those with homosexual inclinations or attractions is to be married and have children – a slight overstatement but only slight. I believe they were well-intended, but over-zealous. It is, in fact, the reason why this ministry, or a representative of this ministry, was not asked to speak at last year’s EFCA Theology Conference. Instead we heard from Wesley Hill, which was intentional and purposeful, and very helpful.

But what we are experiencing is what happens so often. If their original goal was defined by meaning heterosexual marriage with children, one side of the pendulum, then what we are hearing now, at least as it appears to me, is the other side of the pendulum swing such that they are backing away from holding firm on the clear teaching of Scripture. This is not stated explicitly, but it is what it sounds like, or at least there is a equivocation on what can be said and how strongly those things can be said. On some of these sexual matters, the Bible is not silent. Therefore, to equivocate or to suggest that it might be right for me, and it will be what I embrace, but I will not say what someone else must embrace is also a moral issue. Not to speak clearly when and where the Bible speaks clearly is morally wrong. The Bible still clearly and explicitly speaks of change/transformation (1 Cor. 6:9-11), and it also reminds us that we groan while we still live in this fallen world (Rom. 8:22-25).

And added to this is the all-too-typical apology made by Chambers to the LGBTQ community. I am not suggesting repentance and apology are wrong. Where wrongs have been done and where sins have been committed it is right, in fact it is morally right, to repent, to apologize. But often the apology is made in so comprehensive a manner that it negates any and all of the past ministry, including the good. And there was some good that happened with this ministry. I was encouraged to hear Chambers acknowledge this, at least in his own life. And acknowledging there was some good is not hedging whatsoever that there was some bad for which an apology was right. And I also wonder – should the LGBTQ community be the only one to whom an apology is given? Certainly the one sinned against is the one to whom an apology is to be given. Would it, however, also be fitting to give an apology to Christians too? I think so.

Here are a few concluding, summarizing thoughts.

  1. When one is converted by the gospel and transformed by the Holy Spirit, it is often concluded that that becomes the way God works in everyone’s life. In other words, my experience is universalized. The truth is universal; the promise of the gospel is absolute; my experience of it is personal, first, and corporate, second.
  2. Because the gospel brings liberty, freedom, and it is wonderful, one desires that same freedom for everyone else. But in that desire for others to experience the same deep and profound freedom and transformation that the Lord brings through Holy Spirit’s application of the gospel in one’s life, there is a temptation to go about it as if that change can be orchestrated and done by man, by a talk, by a ministry, by a program, by an institution, and not by God. Apart from Him we can do nothing.
  3. It is an ongoing challenge to keep the gospel central in both doctrine and in practice. It is absolutely critical to embrace both the doctrinal centrality of the gospel and the functional centrality of the gospel, that the gospel is central in lips and life, in belief and behavior. Often the Lord gives a person a passion for a ministry that is an entailment of the gospel. This is related to something the Lord has allowed them to experience or to have learned or something from which they have been saved. Because a person becomes so impassioned for this ministry which is to be seen and understood through the lens of the gospel, it becomes the lens through which the gospel is seen and understood. It, then, becomes central and essential, and the gospel is assumed, at best, and misaligned through the grid of this special interest, at worst. This may well be some of what happened with Exodus over the years.
  4. One side of the pendulum is that one becomes passionate and zealous for all to experience the same thing he or she did, and it is expected that it will happen in the same way, at the same time and with the same result. To treat all that way will be hurtful, even if it is well intended. But then the other side of the pendulum is to make everything personal, individual and private, and we do not expect much gospel transformation in others at all. There is little to no expectation that the gospel can and will bring forgiveness, liberty and transformation.
  5. This is related to an over-realized eschatology that expects too much here and now, almost as if the future, end-time kingdom has come in full. Once one realizes that we live in a redeemed-but-not-yet-glorified state, it can lead to an under-realized eschatology that expects little to nothing of transformation here and now.
  6. In much of our Spirit-prompted and Spirit empowered putting to death the sins of the flesh and putting on the graces of Christ, our battle in sanctification, we forget that we still live in a fallen world. We, like creation, groan, longing to be glorified. And not only must we understand this in our own lives, we must also see others in this way as well. No one is exempt from the command to be holy; no one will fully attain it in this earthly life; all ought to long for it.
  7. A ministry begins with a desire to serve and minister and help others. In order to do that most effectively, it creates programs and becomes an organization or an institution. Neither one is inherently bad, but each carries with it certain challenges. It must be remembered that programs, organizations and institutions exist to serve people. When that is lost, then a Christian ministry does need to reconsider its meaning, its purpose and its existence.
  8. There is a huge cultural shift on many moral issues of the day. This is an implication of living in a postChristian day. It causes, maybe even forces, Christians to reconsider things, which can be good. But it must not lead to a denial of the Scriptures, or updating the Scriptures in an attempt to make the truth more palatable. This decision has a bit of this feel. We must not separate or isolate ourselves, for how can we be salt and light if we do so, and we must not accommodate or capitulate to the culture, for then we have compromised. We stand on, proclaim and live the truth. We do so boldly, courageously and humbly.
  9. There is much to learn!

What do you think? How do you process this?

 

The EFCA Spiritual Heritage Committee (Bill Jones, Bill Kynes, Ernie Manges, David Martin and Greg Strand) has written a Statement that will be an excellent Resource for our pastors and churches as they think through and write policies on this moral issue of the day. This is how the document begins:

Never have the sexual ethics of our culture been more confused and contorted. The need for a clear voice from the church on these matters is critical, both for the health of our own community and for our faithful witness to the world.

This Statement, drawn from Scripture as our ultimate authority, sets forth a Christian vision of human sexuality as a good gift of God. The divine design for sexual expression within the commitment of marriage between a man and a women is fundamental to the well-ordering of human society and is integral to human flourishing. We desire to articulate this ethic as moral truth binding on us all while recognizing our need of God’s grace and forgiveness in the ways that we all fall short of this divine ideal, specifically as it relates to homosexuality and same-sex “marriage”.

This Statement is not an official policy and therefore has no formal authority in the EFCA. It is written by the Spiritual Heritage Committee, with input from others, as a Resource for local EFC churches. Any authority this Statement would have, in whole or in part, would be determined by the local EFC church.

The complete document can be accessed at our EFCA website.

I would encourage you to use this excellent Statement as a Resource in your ministries. I would also recommend that you promote this document to other pastors, leaders and churches.

Culture, Media and Morality/Truth

Greg Strand – May 20, 2013 1 Comment

A couple of weeks ago the major news in the professional sports world was the announcement made in an essay in Sports Illustrated by veteran professional basketball player Jason Collins that he is gay. The response from fellow professional basketball players, the media and even President Obama was that he was a hero. Making this statement, these people claimed, took great courage, and because of this they were proud of him. They stood with him in support and solidarity.

Sometimes it is best to let the dust settle just a bit on these sorts of announcements as it can give some time, distance and perspective. This is why I address this issue now.

Shortly after this was disclosed a cartoonist for the Chicago Tribune attempted to capture the sentiment of the response, and contrasted it with the disclosure of being a Christian. In the one caption, Tim Tebow confesses his faith in Christ, “I’m Christian.” A media person, a bit scornfully, replies, “Keep it to yourself.” The second picture is of Jason Collins who confesses, “I’m gay.” To this the media response is “Tell me MORE, you big hero!!!”

Chris Broussard, longtime ESPN basketball analyst, was asked how he regarded Collins’ claim to be a Christian and a sexually active gay man. Broussard, who affirmed Collins as a “great guy”, responded publicly on the air with the following:

I’m a Christian. I don’t agree with homosexuality. I think it’s a sin, as I think all sex outside of marriage between a man and a woman is. …If you’re openly living that type of lifestyle, the Bible says you know them by their fruits, it says that’s a sin. If you’re openly living in unrepentant sin, whatever it may be, not just homosexuality, adultery, fornication, premarital sex between heterosexuals, whatever it may be, I think that’s walking in open rebellion to God and to Jesus Christ. I would not characterize that person as a Christian because I don’t think the Bible would characterize them as a Christian.

To this, the response was anything but accepting and tolerant. Broussard was referred to as a “bigot,” he was accused of being “intolerant” and “homophobic,” and he was criticized for being “irrelevant,” and much worse.

As one compares the responses to these two announcements, there are few to none comparisons but only – and many – contrasts.

There is a cultural conformist mindset which this exemplifies. If one looks at our culture and the cultural stream, the conformist mindset made Collins’ announcement the easier of the two. Broussard’s response was counter-cultural, a non-cultural conformist response, which explains the strong and negative backlash he experienced.

This is another one of those indicators and reminders that we live in a postmodern and an increasingly post-Christian day, which is evidenced not only in the acceptance of Collins’ announcement and how he is praised for it, but also in the response against those who do not.

Living faithfully as Christians in this changing culture will be the focus of our 2014 Theology Conference. This sort of cultural conformist mindset and its implications will be one of a number of subjects we will address. Please put the dates on your calendar and plan to attend!

The Bible and Homosexuality

Greg Strand – May 2, 2013 1 Comment

Wayne Grudem, former professor at TEDS and author of the excellent Systematic Theology, wrote the section on “Biblical Ethics: An Overview – Homosexuality” for the ESV Study Bible. This stand-alone, downloadable resource is an extremely helpful biblical and theological statement on homosexuality.

Grudem writes the article under the following themes:

  • God’s Original Design
  • Prohibited Sexual Relations
  • The Bible’s Solution regarding Homosexuality
  • Objections
  • Same-Sex Marriage?
  • Conclusion

Grudem’s conclusion:

Homosexual conduct of all kinds is consistently viewed as sin in the Bible, and recent reinterpretations of the Bible that have been raised as objections to that view do not give a satisfactory explanation of the words or the context of the relevant verses. Sexual intimacy is to be confined to marriage, and marriage is to be only between one man and one woman, following the pattern established by God in creation. The church should always act with love and compassion toward homosexuals, yet never affirm homosexual conduct as morally right. The gospel of Jesus Christ offers the “good news” of forgiveness of sins and real hope for a transformed life to homosexuals as well as to all sinners. 

This biblical and theological treatment is excellent so that you will get a good sense of the key teaching of the Bible on homosexuality. It is brief enough that you will be able to recommend the resource to others.