Archives For Wesley Hill

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!

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?

 

It was important and helpful to have Wesley Hill with us at our Theology Conference to share his personal testimony. You can hear his testimony here: Washed and Waiting: A Personal Testimony, Theological and Ecclesial Reflections (Audio)

My sense was that people generally wrestled with three questions/implications to Hill’s testimony of living under the Lordship of Christ, living in submission to the authority of the Scriptures, living a life of holiness while having same-sex inclinations:

  1. transformation and how much is to be expected/required in this life;
  2. desire (or inclination or temptation) equals lust, and since lust is sinful and something from which we must be delivered, so is desire;
  3. resignation to this reality in this life, rather than remaining hopeful and vigilant to be changed, to be transformed.

Subsequent to our Theology Conference, Hill responded to a couple of the recurring questions he was asked, which included some of what I noted above, (also posted at Spiritual Friendship).

One question addressed the notion of identifying oneself as a “‘gay’ Christian.” Hill notes the question: “Why would you call yourself a ‘gay Christian’?,” to which he responds.

“Gay” in current parlance doesn’t necessarily refer to sexual behavior; it can just as easily refer to one’s sexual orientation and say nothing, one way or the other, about how one is choosing to express that orientation. So, whereas “stealing Christian” certainly denotes the behavior of stealing, “gay Christian” may simply refer to the erotic inclinations of the Christian who claims that identity and leave open the question of whether he or she is sexually active with members of his or her own sex.

This is why, by the way, I rarely use the phrase “gay Christian” without adding another adjective: “celibate.” To call myself a “celibate gay Christian” specifies both my sexual orientation and the way I’m choosing to live it out.

I have previously stated that I don’t necessarily like that a professing Christian refers to oneself as a “gay Christian.” But I am not one who struggles with same-sex inclinations, and I do know that Hill, specifically, has his reasons, as stated above. I would also note that based on Hill’s foundational biblical commitments to the Lord, His Word and personal holiness, I am not as inclined to quibble about his reference.

I appreciate what Hill explains above. My quibble is based on the fact that the context in which this is communicated matters, as there is no context-neutral zone in which this is communicated or heard. In reaching out to those who struggle with same-sex inclinations, to refer to oneself in this way most likely helps. It serves as a form of pre-evangelism with the prayer that it will open a door to communicate the message of true hope in the gospel of Jesus Christ. It is confusing, however, and it would send the wrong message to those who conclude the term “gay” refers to sexual behavior. If the term is going to be used, it would have to be defined and nuanced almost every time it was used to ensure it was not misunderstood.

In fact, it is generally true that communicating with sensitivity within a cultural context will result in gaining a hearing among some and offending others. It is clear that when referring to oneself as a “‘gay’ Christian” or even a “celibate ‘gay’ Christian,” it will likely communicate affirmation to those who struggle with such a reality and the general tendency is that it bothers or offends some Christians (Evangelicals). Of those Christians who are offended, one must be careful not to offend the “weak Christian,” and one must be sensitive to fellow Christian brothers and sisters as they hear, seek to understand and process this, but one must not be controlled by the legalist. Context in communication matters.

The second question noted by Hill is the following: “By using the label ‘gay’ for yourself, aren’t you simply accepting that same-sex attraction is an unalterable part of your personality and thereby giving up on the possibility of healing and change?” As part of this answer, Hill refers to studies that reveal that change can and does occur, but not in every instance. Here, then, is the second part to his answer.

“Have you given up hope?” On the contrary, calling oneself a “celibate gay Christian” may be a way of expressing, not giving up, hope—but expressing it in a way that doesn’t link that hope to orientation change. Claiming the label “celibate gay Christian” means, for me, recognizing my homosexual orientation as a kind of “thorn in the flesh.” When the apostle Paul used that phrase in his correspondence with the Corinthian church, he made clear that his “thorn” was indeed an unwelcome source of pain (2 Corinthians 12:7). But he also made clear that it had become the very occasion for his experience of the power of the risen Christ and, therefore, a paradoxical site of grace (2 Corinthians 12:8). Paul, I think, would have had no qualms about labeling himself a “thorn-pricked Christian”—not because he recognized his thorn as a good thing, in and of itself, but because it had become for him the means by which he encountered the power of Christ. Likewise, living with an unchanged homosexual orientation may be for many of us the means by which we discover new depths of grace, as well as new vocations of service to others.

This has prompted a good deal of discussion, which was one of the reasons it was important for Hill to join us at our Theology Conference. Too many Evangelicals, including some in the EFCA, conclude that one is either classified as an ardent, lobbying gay activist who embraces the belief, life and lifestyle of homosexuality, or one is gloriously transformed and that transformation is noted by marriage and children. Though both of those realities exist, and we thank and praise God that transformation can and does occur (cf. 1 Cor. 6:9-11), it overlooks the spectrum that exists. There are those, like Hill, that don’t fit either category, but who are gloriously transformed and who live under the Lordship of Christ, the authority of His Word, and are committed to holiness of life, those who are redeemed-but-not-yet-glorified and who long to be liberated from life in this fallen, sinful and broken world (Rom. 8:23-25). But this reality is not limited to any one sub-group of Christians, those with struggles like Hill’s, but for all Christians.

Not all agreed with Hill’s assessment of how to explain or understand his life’s experience biblically, but it was important to hear from him and how he attempts to live faithfully as a disciple of Jesus Christ in the context of the local church. My sense is that if we do not have a place for people like Hill in our local churches, I am quite sure there is no room for people like us (me!) either.

 

A question was raised regarding one of the speakers for our upcoming EFCA Theology Conference. Since this question was raised by one, it has also likely been raised by others. With the questioner’s permission I am posting along with my reply.

Question

Wesley Hill is an avowed (though celibate) homosexual and after looking into it, it appears that he is. He admitted so in a Christianity Today book review. Did we know this when we invited him? If so, can you please explain the rationale?

Response

I am fully aware of Wesley Hill and his inclinations. In fact, it is one of the reasons why he was invited. However, even more foundationally, I invited him because he is a fellow brother in the Lord, committed to the gospel of Jesus Christ, and submissive to the inerrancy and authority of the Bible. He is an Evangelical in the best definition of that term theologically defined. He acknowledges that he has a same-sex attraction. He also acknowledges that it is a result of living in a fallen world. He also acknowledges that he must live in submission to God’s Word.

I don’t necessarily like that he refers to himself as a “gay Christian,” but he has his reasons. Based on his foundational biblical commitments to the Lord, His Word and personal holiness, I am not as inclined to quibble about his reference. I do want to hear his further explanations. I believe Hill has much to teach us about those who have similar struggles, and who desire to live faithfully before the Lord and in submission to His Word.

To respond/conclude that people with struggles like Hill don’t belong or they can’t be Christians, or they can’t be evangelicals, or they are in sin simply because they have these inclinations (I am not broadening this beyond Hill’s position as noted above with all of his acknowledgements and commitments) would be biblically inaccurate. Moreover, I believe the statement that “Hill is an avowed (though celibate) homosexual” is also inaccurate and hurtful, as it is not what he writes or claims.

There appear to be two incorrect assumptions in the statement. First, being a “gay Christian” and having those “inclinations” is equated with being “an avowed homosexual.” They are not one and the same. Second, “avowed” connotes that he affirms and celebrates his identity; Hill indeed regards it as a type of brokenness. But just as we are instructed in Scripture to rejoice in suffering (Rom. 5:1-5; 12:12; Col. 1:24; 1 Pet. 1:6-9), Hill finds things to affirm even in his brokenness (2 Cor. 12:9-10). He never goes the added step, however, of affirming any goodness in homosexual intimacy.

Such a (mis)statement/conclusion may deny the reality of the fallenness of our world that will only be made right when the Lord Jesus Christ returns (and it is important to remember that all of us in some way live with some implications in consequence of the fall that will only be fully sanctified at glorification); it may mandate that they be married which could be to encourage a response that would deny the gift of singleness (cf. 1 Cor. 7:7; both singleness and marriage are “gifts,” and marriage is temporary in that in the resurrection there will be no marriage [Matt. 22:30]); it may force them to the position and people where they find acceptance, that is in and with the homosexual community, those who do not believe the position or the lifestyle are sinful whatsoever.

Though we believe homosexual behavior is sinful, as does Hill, there is much that we as Evangelicals, generally, and as the EFCA, specifically, need to learn. I am prayerful the Lord will use Hill as part of our learning.