026. whether the weather…

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The tornado in Minneapolis was a gentle but firm warning to the ELCA and all of us: Turn from the approval of sin. Turn from the promotion of behaviors that lead to destruction. Reaffirm the great Lutheran heritage of allegiance to the truth and authority of Scripture. Turn back from distorting the grace of God into sensuality. Rejoice in the pardon of the cross of Christ and its power to transform left and right wing sinners.

These are the words of my pastor, John Piper, in his recent blog entry on DesiringGod, writing about the tornado that struck downtown Minneapolis on Wednesday afternoon—specifically, that it struck Central Lutheran Church where the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America was meeting to decide whether or not to allow homosexuals to serve in ministry within the church. They met again on Friday to vote “whether gay and lesbian pastors in committed relationships should be allowed to lead individual congregations” (Minnesota Public Radio), and passed the motion with a 559-451 vote, repealing an earlier ban on gay clergy “unless they agree to remain celibate” (Star Tribune), essentially acknowledging the validity of same-sex relationships.

On the one hand, I respect and admire John Piper as a pastor and teacher. He believes firmly in the primacy of God’s word. He preaches the love of God to everyone, and the joy and full satisfaction to be found in the death, resurrection and lordship of Jesus Christ—or, to use his motto, “God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in Him.” On the other hand, he also believes and teaches that homosexuality is a sinful lifestyle, incompatible with scripture and the teachings of the Church. Piper doesn’t dwell on this like some in the pulpit do, but rather stresses that all humanity is sinful (straight and gay alike) and in need of the grace of God, and for that I appreciate his ministry.

It’s moments like this that unhinge me completely and make me start questioning everything all over again. Part of me does feel like my sexuality is broken. I can’t imagine a life in which I’m not attracted to men, but since when has my lack of imagination ever stopped God? Even after deciding to pursue a relationship with my boyfriend, there are still unresolved doubts and fears in my spirit that come from a fear of being wrong about something so significant. How can a man I have listened to and trusted to deliver the word of God faithfully and accurately be wrong on this issue, or there be such consensus amongst other pastors and theologians that I also admire who agree that homosexuality is at best a neurosis and at the very worst an abomination?

There is this definitely a divide over this issue. The ELCA motion to allow gay pastors was passed very narrowly, with a 2/3 majority—a small but statistically significant difference of 108. I’m sure there were a wide variety of opinions at the conference. Lutheran CORE, a coalition for reform within the ELCA, has renounced the decision as well as their recognition by the ELCA “as an Independent Lutheran Organization that officially relates to the ELCA”, essentially encouraging “faithful” members to split and withdraw their support from the denomination.

There are to many differing positions on this issue, ranging from the usual outright condemnation (though to varying degrees of vituperation) from conservative denominations and theologians, to blanket acceptance from the more liberal and reformed sects of Christianity (the Methodists and the ELCA, for instance), and they all seem to find ways of supporting their arguments with Scripture. Traditionalists hold to the status quo on interpretation, pointing to the role of the Holy Spirit and the sovereignty of God in the authorship of the Bible; while progressives argue that the authors of scripture were writing from their own cultural perspectives, with a very little understanding of human sexuality, and were addressing a contemporary audience, so different standards apply to modern interpretation.

To cite theologian Virginia Mollenkott, to deny homosexuals their right to live in same-sex relationships is to deny their full humanity as sexually created beings; and along those same lines, C. Ann Shepherd writes in The Bible & Homosexuality in reference to the oft-quoted Romans 1:26-27 passage,

“When the scripture is understood correctly, it seems to imply that it would be unnatural for heterosexuals to live as homosexuals, and for homosexuals to live as heterosexuals.”

Personally, I have never experienced attraction to women, or sexual interest in women, even as a boy. I have always had a sexual curiosity about men that eventually blossomed into sexual desire for them. Yet the only messages I get are that I must either practically beg God to change me into a heterosexual, or choose and maintain a cloistered celibate lifestyle through Bible reading and prayer. So what are young Christians like myself supposed to do when there is a complete lack of agreement in the faith community about our sexuality? Are we, like Piper cries, distorting the grace of God into sensuality?

Now, I fully agree that the Biblical model of marriage is the one we must adhere to. Human sexuality must be expressed through appropriate vehicles in order to keep it from running amok and causing societal damage. I believe this applies to homosexual relationships as well, for we are no less human because of who we are attracted to, and gay men especially need to exercise sexual restraint. But to say that the gays are “going straight” by moving towards monogamy is just as bad as accusing black people of “going white,” betraying a basic misunderstanding of what it is to be human. That something as complex as sexuality should be expressed in only one way, in a Western, monocultural manner, seems absurd.

So there it is. I’m out of thoughts for the time being. Need to process now.

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2 thoughts on “026. whether the weather…

  1. David

    I don’t know you and so haven’t earned any right to get a hearing from you, but I have a few thoughts to share if I may.

    First off, I feel some of your pain over sexuality issues and feeling like your sexuality may be broken. No, I’m not saying I know all about it but I feel I have an inkling and am sorry for what you must go through. I say this because of some painful history and brokenness I have had regarding my heterosexuality. My experiences are obviously not the same, but I see many connecting points and similarities of effects of sin in my sexual life and in sin in my life in general. The core nature of our sins against God have a lot of commonality.

    Second, I think there is a valid and necessary distinction between having same sex desires (or heterosexual desires) and acting on them. In other words, I would not see having same sex desires in and of itself to be sinful. From God’s perspective I think it is a brokenness, but not sin in and of itself. If having same sex attraction itself was a sin, then that seems to be saying you are sinning all the time just by being, even without any actions proceeding from your sexual orientation. I don’t think that’s the case. I believe this distinction is very important, even if the church and many Christians haven’t carefully and clearly made it. What gets really tough for someone with same sex interest who believes that it is wrong to act on them, is that there is apparently no legitimate outlet for his or her sexual desires in this life unless there is a drastic change (like orientation). Where the brokenness comes from and why God has allowed it is a whole different question I’m not addressing here.

    Third, I have an issue with Virginia Mollenkott’s statement that “to deny homosexuals their right to live in same-sex relationships is to deny their full humanity as sexually created beings.” I don’t deny that not being able to live in a same sex relationship for one with those desires is a hardship and may put a large strain on their humanity.

    Using the phrase “right to live …” seems to say too much however. It seems to say it would be wrong to require those with same sex attraction to live celibate and out of a same sex relationship. She seems to use this as justification to approve of it. She seems to imply this celibacy would be a unique hardship God would not require of people.

    There are many people in the world that have opposite sex attraction and no forseeable way to express their sexuality and have an outlet. There are adults who long to get married and be in relationship but it has not been granted as of yet — they may have physical or emotional impediments that have made them not be seen as suitable by anyone; there may not have been an appropriate suitor in their life. There are some who are married who are struggling in relationship with their spouse and their spouse is withholding intimacy and relationship — and the one may be in agony in trying to remain pure and celibate and to not leave their spouse, yet have no legitimate outlet.

    I think there are many varieties of people in this world who for various reasons have no sexual outlet, heterosexual or otherwise, though they may intensely desire it. I just hope that Mollenkott is not trying to legitimize something wrongfully using a hardship argument. God calls us to many hard things we may not be able to fathom how we can live through. This is very relevant for me because I am one of those people in the group above and am wrestling with God in what I should do.

    Fourth, you are in a good church to be dealing with this issue. Piper is also my pastor. I believe the teaching at Bethlehem in this area is true to God’s word, and is delivered with compassion. Oh, may more of us in the congregation have compassion with others in dealing with their struggles.

    May God grant you grace and the strength each day sufficient for your trials, and joy along the way. May Jesus be enough.

  2. This is tough stuff, David, and it’s stuff you will have to sort through and decide on for yourself. I think that acting in accordance with a biblical ideal of marriage, even if it is with a man, is a smart idea. I certainly don’t think you’re in the wrong, but you know how I feel.

    Doubt is a necessary part of faith, and asking questions is important. Never stop doing that.

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