how should we approach the “gay Chrisian” debate (pt 3)

Condemnation is a third common response in the debate over the legitimacy of a homosexual-Christian identity. By condemnation I mean more than denouncing a behavior or lifestyle. What I have in mind is a mindset that leads to condemning the homosexual as a person, often with the implication that they are without hope. Those who would fall into this approach will often assert the following:

1. Sexual sin is the most egregious sin & homosexuality is the worst kind of sexual sin. This line of reasoning usually places the homosexual in another class of sinner. While I would argue the Bible depicts varying degrees of sin, sexual sin often receiving special attention, we run into trouble when our attitude toward fellow sinners set on a sliding scale. First, our scales aren’t exactly calibrated to the divine standard. Jesus declared that Sodom, the quintessential symbol of homosexual depravity, would receive a more tolerable judgment than Capernaum (Mat 11:23-24) not because Capernaum was more sexually depraved but because while living morally they rejected the truth set before their eyes. Second, inordinate attention to behavioral sin distracts from corruption in the heart. I can refrain from engaging in adultery but does my standing before the judge improve if I possess a heart riddled with lust for other women (Mat 5:27ff; see also Jesus accusation against the Pharisees in Mat 23:25-28)?

More important, however, than varying degrees of sin is the matter of repentance (Mat 11:21). We’ll come back to this when we propose a fourth (and better) response to this debate but for now we should consider that as sinners our preeminent concern is recognizing and repenting of the sin by which we’re convicted rather than arguing technicalities.

2. Homosexuality is a choice.
The heart is deceitful and sick (Jer 17:9) and I don’t doubt that some do choose homosexuality even when they claim they had no choice. However, to assert that all homosexuals made a calculated decision strikes me as shortsighted. All of creation suffers corruption as a result of sin (Rom 8:19-22) and mankind’s material and immaterial components don’t always function according to God’s natural design. Affirming our brokeness–bodies, minds, emotions, desires–need not justify sin.

3. Homosexuality is a form of God’s judgment on sinners.
In other words, the fact that someone is a homosexual proves that God has already judged that person. This notion seems to flow from a misunderstanding of Romans 1. The question is how we are to understand Paul’s claim that God gave them over to degrading passions (Rom 1:26). For the sake of brevity, God’s judgment is the “giving over” to passions which were already present. That is, rather than striving against their sin God simply gives them over to be mastered by their sin. Left unstated is whether or not this “handing over” is irrevocable (although the context implies that for God to give someone over is the last step before the final judgment), but homosexuality, in and of itself, is no more decisive than idolatry, murder, greed, and gossip–all sins to which men are “given over” in their depraved minds (Rom 1:28ff).

Finally, to claim that homosexuality is a fixed judgment that foreshadows one’s fate in the final judgment completely ignores the Paul’s claim in 1Cor 6:9-11. The homosexual, Paul states, will not enter the kingdom of God but within the Corinthian church were saints who were homosexuals prior to their new life in Christ. After all, justification & sanctification are all about God making the unrighteous righteous.

how should we approach the “gay Christian” debate? (pt 2)

The previous post briefly reviewed some of the more common reasons offered in defense of homosexual identity for a professing Christian. The second of three responses we’ll characterize as accommodation. By “accommodate” I mean that when faced with the question “Can a Christian be gay?” the respondent is neither willing to affirm nor deny the validity of the homosexual-Christian identity. Rather, he takes something of an “all have sinned” approach which, while implying that homosexuality is sin, essentially validates the identity in question.

We should recognize that accommodation isn’t necessarily the intent of everyone who takes a non-committal stance on the matter. No doubt some Christians genuinely wrestle with this issue and would hate to see anyone shunned by the church absent any clear conviction. But we must also admit that another segment of this group seemingly take this approach as a way to curry favor with those who might otherwise label them as hypocrites and judgmental bigots. As with so many discussions the motive behind the accommodation is just as important as the argument itself. The following statements are often posited as a middle-of-the-road approach:

1. Jesus never spoke against homosexuality. To be fair this sentiment typically reflects more than just an argument from silence. Along with the absence of any direct address by Christ we’re encouraged to consider that Jesus actually spoke most aggressively against religious hypocrites than he did tax collectors, prostitutes, etc. But emphasizing the absence of a rebuke from Jesus related to homosexuality ignores several other facts: (a) Jesus affirmed the authority of the OT which does prohibit homosexuality (b) the NT epistles are just as authoritative as the gospels–God has spoken on the matter of homosexuality. You can’t pursue the “Jesus-didn’t-say-it” argument without diminishing the NT epistles as writings of lesser importance. (c) an argument from silence cuts both ways. Whereas Jesus addressed debates surrounding matters such as divorce & remarriage, sabbath laws, etc. an issue such as homosexuality went unmentioned because there was no argument as to what Scripture had to say on the matter. Jesus’ followers and detractors alike would have been in agreement on the matter (especially since homosexuality was largely considered a Gentile sin).

2. Sin is sin. Yes and no. Sin is sin in that all sin condemns us and brings us under God’s righteous judgment, but some sin receives a greater condemnation. Just a few examples of the degrees of sin: (a) Num 15:28-31 defiant sin was treated differently than unintentional sin (b) Luk 12:10 unlike all other sins, Jesus said blasphemy of the Holy Spirit was/is unforgivable (c) Mat 11:20-24 Jesus claimed some will receive a greater judgment based on the amount of revelation they rejected (d) 1Cor 6:18 sexual sin is unlike other sins in at least one respect

3. We can’t change feelings but we can control actions. This point will be dealt with more fully when we offer our 4th response, but presently we’ll acknowledge up front that this notion falls far short of what Scripture teaches. The Bible calls us to deny sin not to manage it and Jesus taught that even the sinful feeling/attitude within a man makes that man guilty of sin (see Mat 5:21-22). Additionally, the Bible teaches that what lies in the heart will bear fruit in actions (Prov 4:23; Mar 7:20-23). So to suggest that the mark of Christianity is that we simply don’t act on our deeply held feelings is to contradict what the Word has to say concerning our new birth and the transformation of heart and mind.

how should we approach the “gay Christian” debate? (pt 1)

The central position for those who seek to affirm (and justify) the biblical validity of the homosexual-Christian identity is that we have misread the Bible’s teaching on homosexuality and that upon closer inspection we find no moral disparity between the heterosexual and homosexual lifestyles. The reasoning behind this position often goes something like this: (i) God made me/them this way (ii) the Bible’s prohibition concerns promiscuous homosexuality and/or (iii) the Bible’s prohibition is relative to the cultural context. We’ll take these arguments in order.

1) God made me/them this way. Some articulate this point in different ways–homosexuality is not a choice, I was born this way, etc.–but the basic idea is the assertion that people are created heterosexual or homosexual and that no one can alter their genetic code [some have coined this the DNA = Destiny argument]. I won’t deny a predisposition to certain behaviors but to be predisposed is far from being justified in that behavior. Just as important is the need to recognize that all of us suffer from the ill effects of sin on the created order so that no one can claim the mere presence of a desire to be a decisive justification for that desire.

2) The Bible’s prohibition concerns promiscuous homosexuality. Pointing to passages such as 1Corinthians 6:9-10 advocates claim that the Bible doesn’t condemn monogamous homosexuality but rather a licentious homosexuality free from the constraints of loving fidelity. However, if the issue was merely promiscuity or infidelity Paul would have no reason to mention homosexuality at all. In 1Cor 6:9, for example, fidelity and promiscuity are sufficiently covered by terms such as “fornicator” and “adulterer”. The most natural explanation for the appearance of “homosexual” in this verse is that God intends to communicate that homosexuality–like heterosexual promiscuity and infidelity–is unrighteous. [we should also note that we have no compelling lexical evidence that would lead us to believe that the Greek word arsenokoites in 1Cor 6:9 ever meant anything more than “homosexual”]

3) The Bible’s prohibition is relative to the cultural context. The cultural elements that proponents have in mind are temple prostitution and pederasty. No doubt these abuses were known in NT times but it takes a forced reading of passages like Romans 1:26ff to suggest that Paul meant to condemn homosexuality only in the contexts of idolatry or pedophilia. Arguments 2-3 are similar in that both arguments beg the question. Passages like Romans 1, 1Corinthians 6, and 1Timothy 1 can only be interpreted as friendly or neutral to a homosexual agenda when the conclusion is assumed before-hand.

how should we approach the “gay Christian” debate? (intro)

Sunday evening I had the opportunity to make something of an informal presentation entitled How Does Scripture Shape Our Thinking About Gay Christians? The discussion was by no means exhaustive and probably not as heavy on Scripture as what I would have liked (that’s self-criticism; in fact, I’m seriously considering revising the schedule for next week so that we can revisit some key passages that deserve further attention/explanation) but in the end I hope it was profitable.

My exposure to the “gay Christian” debate suggests that a majority recognize that a straightforward reading of the relevant biblical passages places homosexuality in a decidedly negative light. The question is whether or we are to take such passages at face value or if we should have a more nuanced reading based on underlying cultural-historical or lexical features.

At the risk of oversimplification, when someone poses the question “What should we do/say when a Christian claims he’s gay?”, I find three common responses (none of them satisfactory in light of Scripture): (1) Affirmation/Justification (2) Acquiescence/Accommodation (3) Antagonism/Condemnation. I’ll tackle each of these responses as time permits and conclude with a post offering a fourth response that strives for closer adherence to the Word.

More to come…

eating: mandatory or optional (pt 2)

When someone asks “do I have to read my Bible every day?” the focus is immediately turned to the respondent and/or his response. Will the answer be too soft or too severe, too lazy or too legalistic? But I’m increasingly convinced that the question itself should be our focus. The problem lies not in the answer but in the fact that such a question should even be raised.

Take just two examples from the book of Psalms:
Psalm 19:7a, 8a The law of the LORD is perfect, restoring the soul…The precepts of the LORD are right, rejoicing the heart…
Psalm 119:103 How sweet are Your words to my taste! Yes, sweeter than honey to my mouth!

Verses like these speak to an objective and subjective element to Scripture. The objective element is heard in declarations that the Word is perfect and right; the subjective is contained in the effects or the experience of that perfect Word: the soul is restored, the heart rejoices, the words are found to be sweet. If the Word is true on these points, how is that we get to the place where we ask whether or not we’re required to read perfection every day, or if our heart must experience joy, or if we’re obligated to enjoy the sweetest food of this life? Queries like these would be like a man asking if he must enjoy the “perfect” woman (and how often) when he found her or a teen wondering why his parents insist on giving him his favorite dessert after every meal. In those cases we find a certain absurdity to the inquiry that says more about the nature of the interrogator than the matter under review.

To be continued…

eating: mandatory or optional? [a quick read]

Before returning to the “eating” discussion I’d encourage you to take in the 2 comments made on the previous post. Also, I came across this brief article that touches on a significant point I’ll make in the follow-up post tomorrow.

Your comments are always welcome.

eating: mandatory or optional?

Sunday morning’s study revolved around a discussion of the importance of a Christian spending regular time in God’s Word. Our church has a statement in its covenant that reads We will seek to maintain private devotions as we pray for ourselves and others which is a bit curious when you consider that the covenant is an agreement between two or more parties. Why should my private devotions be anyone else’s business? Additionally, why should I covenant to maintain private devotions–doesn’t that carry a whiff of legalism?

The latter of these two questions received the majority of our attention (the corporate aspect of private devotions is a discussion for another time). So, do I have to read the Bible daily? every other day? weekly? when I feel like it? when I don’t feel like it? Here’s a brief sampling of some of the suggestions put forward:

(i) regularly reading the Word may not carry the same weight as you move from one person to another. One man reads and another prays but both commune with God in their respective ways.

(ii) to assert that we must read the Bible is to create a rule or a duty that undermines the freedom & grace found in a relationship with Christ.

(iii) time in the Word should be a joy so a Christian is better served when he is moved to the Word by a sense of longing or need.

(iv) spending time in the Word is accomplished in a variety of ways–sermons, podcasts, Christian books, etc

(v) the Word is to our spirit what food is to the body–I can choose not to eat but I shouldn’t expect to stay healthy.

What do you think? Is reading the Word mandatory?

to be continued…

homo unius libri

I have thought I am a creature of a day, passing through life as an arrow through the air. I am a spirit come from God and returning to God; just hovering over the great gulf, till a few moments hence I am no more seen. I drop into an unchangeable eternity! I want to know one thing, the way to heaven–how to land safe on that happy shore. God himself has condescended to teach the way: for this very end he came from heaven. He hath written it down in a book. O give me that book! At any price give me the Book of God! I have it. Here is knowledge enough for me. Let me be homo unius libri [a man of one book].
John Wesley, “Preface to Sermons on Several Occasions”

thanksgiving in a reward I’ll never see

Psalm 103:8-12 The LORD is compassionate and gracious, Slow to anger and abounding in lovingkindness. He will not always strive with [me], Nor will He keep His anger forever. He has not dealt with [me] according to [my] sins, Nor rewarded [me] according to [my] iniquities. For as high as the heavens are above the earth, So great is His lovingkindness toward those who fear Him. As far as the east is from the west, So far has He removed [my] transgressions from [me].

giving under grace in freedom with priorities (pt 2)

The previous post laid out several statements in the NT that, when taken together, depict a certain priority and/or pattern for Christian giving. The view taken here is that Scripture makes the care of one’s home and church the central tenet of Christian giving. Without denying that we also give as an essential act of mercy in the church’s mission to the world, we can’t ignore the number of times that the Bible names our natural and spiritual family as our primary dependents. Whatever else Scripture has to say about our giving it certainly communicates an expectation that we will take care of our own.

I recognize that any biblical directive can be twisted or abused so I don’t mean to suggest that a “family first” approach should be pursued without qualification or exception. The fact of the matter is that all giving is open to abuse (whether by the giver or the recipient) and church history is replete with men & movements that have been corrupted by a creeping materialism masked in Christian generosity.

In the interest of brevity (this being Thanksgiving eve and all), I would advocate the following as a good faith effort toward a biblical pattern of giving (in descending order):

1) Give to provide for the needs of my family including any extended dependents (e.g. aging parents).

2) Give to support the ministers, ministries, and expenses of my local church. With the exception of family, this will represent the largest proportion of giving. [I take it that giving to a local church will serve the broader goals of meeting the needs of local/foreign missions, alleviating burdens on the poor, etc.]

3) Give for the assistance of various para-church ministries and/or workers as I may be led, whether a singular gift or regular giving.

4) Give spontaneously as the Spirit leads in unexpected opportunities.

Neither my interpretation nor the resulting model is assumed to be infallible. I’d be eager to hear any other thoughts or to see something I missed.