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Homosexuality in the Church (Part 2)

How should Christians respond to homosexuals? Can someone legitimately be a gay Christian? Today on Theology Unplugged we continue our series on homosexuality in the Church.

Michael Patton (MP): Welcome to Theology Unplugged. I am Michael Patton, along with Tim Kimberly, Sam Storms and JJ Seid. We are all your hosts in our weekly discussion on issues that we try to be unplugged about, try to be real about, try to go where no man has gone before, or really where everybody goes but they just don’t go quite so formally, right?

Tim Kimberly (TK): Yeah. Everybody’s a theologian.

MP: Just over-coffee discussions. Well, we’re continuing our discussion on theology of homosexuality, or homosexuality in the Church. And we got into some good discussion last time about defining the issue, I think, and seeing at least that it is an issue that needs to be discussed. Sam, I think you called it the issue of the Church today—the most important issue in our culture with regard to the culture in the Church maybe.

Sam Storms (SS): Yeah, whether we want it to be or not. No longer is the big issue the timing of the rapture, or the exercise of spiritual gifts.

MP: I wish it was that again.

SS: Or even, as I said, the issue over abortion. Although I trust that the Church will keep that very much in the forefront of society. We need to continue to speak to that. But this one I think is going to trump everything else, at least in terms of the way in which it’s going to alter our understanding of marriage, if we allow it to. I think probably within two years maybe, at most, every state in the United States will have endorsed same-sex marriage. Not so much because the people did, but because the courts will have trumped their decisions as is the case even here in Oklahoma. So, yeah, this is something that we simply cannot turn away from and expect ‘well it’s just a passing fad.’ It’s like the issues of eschatology or the role of women in the Church, it’ll eventually go away. This is not going away.

JJ Seid (JS): And in case our listeners didn’t hear our last podcast, let us make it clear: our view of Christ and culture is not one where we are circling the wagons in order to not be effected by the broader culture. People struggling with same-sex attraction and seeking to discern what God’s will is in relation to their sexuality are not the enemy. And we’re not seeking to keep them from bringing down the ship. The point here is that things have converged to a point, have they not? And so this has become crystallizing. If we think of theology as a web, this issue is connected to everything else, and people are pulling on this particular strand and the whole web is shaking.

TK: And the only thing I’d like to add too, I think is good to set this time, I think it’s really, really necessary for us to dive into the passages, for us to talk about this, but I think it is more necessary when we are dialoguing with our culture that we are telling people about Jesus. So for instance, if someone comes up to me and is like, ‘I am a flaming homosexual that hates Jesus. What are you gonna do with me?’ I’m not going to say, ‘Well, I want you to become heterosexual.’ Instead, I’m going to say, ‘No, I want you to meet Jesus.’ Because their sexuality is a temporary endeavor. All of our sexuality is temporary, but we’re all talking with people who are made in the image of God and will exist forever somewhere. And so I would much rather lead someone to Jesus than lead them to heterosexuality. And so I think, although the Church needs to be very much engaged on this topic, it must not be at the expense of the Gospel though.

JS: One of the ways in which this betrays itself is a heterosexual couple sleeping together who show up at a local church, rarely do the members of that local church feel a deep urgency to explain to them why their cohabitation is wrong. And yet, many Christians that I’ve spoken with feel guilty if they remain silent in speaking to a same-sex couple and not immediately telling them what the Bible has to say about their lifestyle. Missing the point that they’re talking to someone who is very probably spiritually dead and is simply a seeker, and is looking to belong before they become in essence. On this issue, we tend to fumble the ball and do evangelism and discipleship differently than we do with other forms of sin and brokenness. And that double standard is hurting us.

TK: And that’s how we get to legalism. Legalism is you trying to get people to look like followers of Jesus before they’re followers of Jesus. So have them be followers of Jesus first, then they’ll start looking like followers of Jesus hopefully.

MP: We may not ever be able to get to a point, I don’t know if this is possible, but as the one here who is trying to keep the discussion going, trying to keep things moderated, trying to keep the tone the way that it maybe should go. It’s very difficult for me sitting here trying to say, ‘How do I set the tone here?’ Who’s listening and how do we make sure that we’re doing well as we sit before the Lord and say, ‘This is something that is not only honoring to Him, but effective as people who need this.’  Because I’m thinking of people who are struggling with homosexuality. I’m thinking of people who have wrestled with this personally. And in some ways I want them to say, ‘Michael, that was a great broadcast and it really helped me. I’m a struggling homosexual,’ I’d say ‘success’ type thing. But how do we set a tone for this as we move forward, because we’re going to talk in just a moment about different arguments on each side and it can become very objective. Very much, here’s the argument that they make; here’s the argument that we make. But what does the tone look like as a pastoral approach to this issue as we’re talking to people?

JS: We’re doing it a little bit backwards from that perspective, you’re right, because of the setting. This is Theology Unplugged and we’re here to address this issue to, in a sense, a faceless audience. And you’re right, if I were talking to a particular friend with a particular name and face in a particular coffee shop I probably wouldn’t start by exegeting the relevant passages in Scripture for him. Unless he asked me first. We’re doing it here in a sense almost like to close the back door. As we talked about previously, people are being told they can have their cake and eat it too. They don’t have to throw away their Bibles. They can embrace monogamous, same-sex relationships. We’re going to very quickly, and probably inadequately, shut the door on that and say, ‘No, the Bible still means what it’s meant for the last two thousand years. Now, lets come back to talking about sin in general before we talk about it in specifics.’ And your sexuality is just another tidepool that the Lordship of Jesus wants to wash onto the beach and spill into. And there’s sectors of the Church that are trying to build a wall around that tidepool and say ‘His Lordship doesn’t spill here.’ And we’re saying, ‘No, His Lordship spills into every tidepool of our life, including our sexuality.’

MP: All right, then. Let’s do that. Let’s talk about the Scripture. Let’s talk about the passages that speak to homosexuality, or allegedly speak to homosexuality, and see how we navigate that. See how someone who, as we said in the last broadcast, is a Bible-believing—believes in the authority of Scripture, the inerrancy of Scripture—and yet, is a homosexual. How do they handle these particular passages of Scripture. Where do we start?

SS: We have to start in Genesis, don’t we? We have to start with God’s creative design. Jesus appealed to that when he was approached about the issue of divorce and remarriage. It seems to me that we cannot talk about this until we ask the question: What was God’s intent in creating humanity and making them male and female, reflective of His image? So, I simply have to go back to Genesis 1 and 2 and the creation. In fact, the end of Genesis 1, if I can just be allowed to read this: “God said, ‘Let Us make man in Our image, after Our likeness. Let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the heavens’,” and so on. And then it says in verse 27 of Genesis 1: ‘So God created man in His own image. In the image of God He created him, male and female, He created them.’ And the teaching of Genesis is forthright and unmistakable that God’s intent was that male and female be united in one flesh in marriage, and that gender is established by God’s creative design. It’s not an issue of choice. It’s not an issue of psychological inclination. It’s not an issue of pursuit of a particular identity as over or against another. Gender is established by God’s creative work in male and female, and his design ultimately is for them in monogamous life-long marriage. I think that’s where we have to start. That has to be our presupposition from the beginning.

MP: Well isn’t it part of the transgender debate, then, starting right here? How do you define gender? I mean, you may say gender is defined in the Bible, but how do we define gender? Is it something that is an inward inclination? Is it something that is in the DNA? Where do we ultimately go? Because that’s where people are struggling that do wrestle with their own sexuality.

SS: Well, personally, I think gender has to be defined biologically—it has to be your birth sex. Again, we’re excluding here those very, very, very small fraction of people who very tragically and sadly are born with both sets of genitalia. Some people listening are saying, ‘What?!’ Yeah, that happens, but the fraction of a percentage point in which that occurs should not be allowed to trump what is the normative experience of men and women. So, yeah, I think gender is established by God’s creative design. It is an issue of biology; it is an issue of DNA. It’s not an issue of ‘but I feel like a boy,’ even though I may be biologically a girl; or ‘I feel like a girl,’ even though I’m biologically a boy; or ‘I enjoy acting out in culturally acceptable ways the way a female would, even though I’m a man;’ or dressing up like a male, even though I’m a girl. So I think, personally…

MP: Well because, if you go with the feelings, you’re talking about, I could feel one way one day, and one way the next. We’re not saying, ‘I feel this way my entire life,’ necessarily. I mean…

TK: But there are some people that would say say that.

SS: Yeah, there are some. They would say that gender is very fluid, is very flexible. It is suspended very much upon choice, upon mood, upon psychology. And, yeah, there’s a spectrum as it were.

MP: I call Tim a girly man all the time, so that doesn’t mean that…

JS: New York Magazine recently had a very moving article where they interviewed many parents of children with gender confusion. And if you listen closely in culture, they’re recognizing what a slippery slope this is. How unbelievably burdensome to ask your middle schooler to figure out their gender, and then let the dominoes fall from the decision of this small child with the weight of the world on their shoulders—trying to determine their gender.

SS: Well, not only that, but now they are making drugs available to parents, who can give them to their children, that delays puberty. To give them more time to decide—do you want to be a girl or a boy? And so we’re actually going to medically delay your biological development so that you can have a choice; and then once you’ve decided, we’ll help you guide through medical, and even surgical, procedures to your particular choice of gender.

JS: And again, the parents get how wild this is. And if you listen, they feel the weight of it, they feel like they’re playing God, and they feel like this is something too big that they didn’t sign up for.

TK: Yeah, and I think that’s where the Church needs to step in, too—is to also recognize, I think that probably a tipping-point in our culture too, has been where all of us had jokes about it and laughed about it until that parent has a kid come up to them and say, ‘I don’t know if I’m a boy or a girl.’ Then I think those parents, and even those kids, feel ashamed, isolated, all of these things if they’re inside a church. Where instead, they need to feel that the community of God is surrounding them and walking with them through this as well. Because, in many situations, it’s an incredibly painful and hard situation that people feel like they can’t talk to their church about because their church will laugh at them.

MP: Well is it ultimately, and I guess this is a good place for us to pause and talk about this transgender stuff because defining yourself in Genesis chapter 1, because are we ultimately saying that the genitalia define you? The XY chromosome define you, before all else? The biology of it? Which one? Because, I mean, you have people that do have the sex-change operations, to where they change their genitalia.

SS: Well I would say God defines you. And I think God does provide criteria by which that definition can be ascertained. And the criteria are, principally, biology and DNA. Someone that I know even now who’s contemplating taking medical and surgical steps towards changing genders, and I’m going to try to obscure this individual, and I’m going to say to this man, whether it’s a man or woman, ‘You will always be a male. It doesn’t matter what surgical procedures you apply to your body. It doesn’t matter what hormonal treatments you may take. It doesn’t matter how you dress. It doesn’t matter how you talk. It doesn’t matter which bathroom you end up choosing to use. You will always be a man because this is the way God made you.’ And that is highly offensive to many people. And it feels condemning; it feels insensitive; it feels…

MP: …archaic.

SS: It does—medieval. And we have to prepare ourselves for that, because people do not want to be defined by God. They want to be defined by self. And it really does come down to that issue—to what do I look as the ultimate, transcendent criterion by which I know who and what I am. Is it a creator God, who has established male and female; or is it my own impulses, my own desires, my own awareness of what’s going to bring greatest fulfillment?

JS: And once you break with culture’s definitions of masculinity and femininity, even though there are multiple definitions, there are still a finite number of them. The beauty here is once we invite someone to break with culture’s definition of masculinity and femininity, even if you may feel excluded from the gender that God gave you, culturally, you’re not excluded from the gender God gave you, theologically, in the realm of the church. Because he defines masculinity, and he defines it differently than culture. And if that person may feel like they got short-shrift in that gender and they want to abandon it for the one that feels more comfortable, there’s a way for them to live out their masculinity or femininity, Biblically. It may not look like the culture.

TK: And I think, though, an area that the church has really messed up though is that the church has, by saying, I think we’ve said: ‘No, the Bible and God defines you.’ But then we’ve tried to do all we can to change their feelings. So we’ve spent way too much time trying to make someone who’s born a man, but feels like a woman, we spend all of our energy trying to get them to feel like a man. Or trying to get a homosexual person to be attracted to a heterosexual, in a heterosexual relationship. And we spend all this time trying to change someone’s feelings, as opposed to living for Jesus, I would say. So, I would say that, when I hear of someone who is born biologically a man and feels 100% like a woman, I’m not going to try and get that person to feel like a man. I’m going to treat them as a man, but a man who feels the way that they feel, and yes God could change that, and I would pray and fast that God would change their feelings. But I would not expect that to happen in every situation.

MP: And the idea of self-fulfillment, I mean I was a singles’ pastor for many years, and the most difficult—and I’ve heard this before as well—the most difficult group in the church to minister to are singles who are in their 30s and 40s. Normally, when you’re in your 20s and you’re single, there’s going to be excitement about the getting married someday. And when you’re in your 50s and beyond, there’s kind of a settlement that maybe I’m not going to, or my husband has passed away, or my wife has passed away, and there’s more of a settlement. But in between, it’s this anxiety period that you have where you want to fulfill that aspect of your sexuality. You want to find a mate and find all the fulfillment that comes with having a mate, but also the fulfillment of you sexually. And trying to figure out, ‘okay, how do I stay celibate during this time?’ And how do I minister to people to stay celibate during this time? And it seems to be in some ways, what we get to when we’re talking about homosexuality is we’re telling them the same thing that we have to tell singes, right? I know you have this inclination; I know you have this drive; I know you have this seeming burden that’s upon you that can oftentimes drive you insane, but we’re asking you to temper it. We’re asking you to control it. We’re saying that you can do those things.

SS: Since this in unplugged, I’ve got an unplugged comment here. There was an individual who was ministering in a very large church in Chicago area. And I said, ‘What’s the biggest challenge that you face?’ And the response was, very simply, this: ‘All our single people are having sex, and none of our married couples are.’ And that’s funny, but it was tragically true. So, it’s an issue that crosses the lines, not even in homosexual, but in heterosexual relationships as well.

MP: As we continue this and talk about the feelings and trying—I mean, I just can’t help but go to culture once again and enter into, whether it be the movies or TV shows or any type of entertainment that is out there, and try to find something that is these days not pro-homosexual. I don’t know if that’s the best way to put it, because we’re not anti-homosexual. But, in support of this lifestyle.

TK: The way that Matthew Vines does, which if we could use his lingo, he says: ‘affirming’ or ‘non-affirming.’ So affirming of homosexual Christians or non-affirming of homosexual Christians.

SS: And this raised another question—just the terminology we’re using. I mean, we’ve been talking here in our second session on this and we haven’t even defined terms. Should we use the word ‘homosexual?’ Some people are saying that has, that we’ve moved beyond that, that that’s too pejorative. What about the term ‘gay’? Should we use same-sex attraction? Is it even legitimate to use ‘gay’ as an adjective with ‘Christian’ as a noun? Is there such a thing as a gay Christian? Or are we just talking about a Christian who struggles with attraction to the same sex? How should we define our terms? What language should we employ, is a crucial issue for us.

MP: Well it’s also, again, the question of identity. Who are you? ‘I’m a gay person.’ Are you a gay person? I mean, is there a gay person, a gay Christian? Can you be such?

SS: Yeah, should we call certain individuals: ‘Well, tell me who you are?’ ‘Well, you know, you won’t like this, but I’m an adulterous Christian.’ Or, ‘I’m a disingenuous Christian.’ And so, do we take any particular behavior, any particular choices, any particular ethical issue and use it as an adjective to define us in such a way that it is inseparable from our identity. Is the issue of sexuality of such a unique nature that people say, ‘Yes, that is who I am.’ You’re not a thief. You know, granted, you’ve got a—what do you do with a professing Christian who has a real problem with shoplifting? And they can’t break the habit. They’re a kleptomaniac. Do we refer to them in that way, in order to define their identity? Most likely people say, ‘No! That’s ridiculous!’ But others would say, ‘But I am  a gay Christian. That is simply inseparable from my identity as the way God has made me.’

MP: Yeah, and is that okay? I mean, are we all right with that? Are we compromising when we…

SS: No! I’m not okay with it.

JS: Well, again, I think there are two ways to take this. The two books that I hand out the most for people related to these issues is, one entitled Is God Anti-Gay, by Sam Allberry—it’s sitting here on the table. And another book called Washed and Waiting. Both by self-described same-sex strugglers who are faithful Christians. And the books are both very good. The irony is…

TK: And they both believe that it’s wrong.

JS: And they both believe that it’s wrong. The irony is they differ on their language. So, Wesley Hill would say, ‘Yeah, I can call myself a gay Christian. Now let me explain what I mean by that. God has not seen fit to remove this besetting temptation from me. This orientation, even. And if He does this side of heaven, I’ll give thanks. If He doesn’t, I’ll remain faithful to Him—crying out, groaning for the restoration of all things. Allberry’s going to say pretty much what Sam said. Now, I think if someone comes into my office and asks me which of those he or she should adopt as a way of speaking, I would tip my hand and tell them what Sam said. Now, I’m not going to make any beef with Sam Allberry of his, I’m sorry, Wesley Hill of his desire to refer to himself that way. He explained what he meant and I understand his theology.

SS: And let’s make sure people understand: Wesley is committed by God’s grace to live in a sexually celibate life.

JS: That’s correct. And it’s Hill’s way of basically acknowledging how deep-seated this is, and that he knows that God may not see fit to deliver him from it. And in a sense, for him, it’s a reminder that this is a pretty big thing that he’s going to be fighting pretty darn hard this side of heaven. So, I don’t think it should be a hill to die on for us. I think we can guide people pastorally in the way that Sam just did.

SS: And Allberry’s point is, to define it further JJ, cause I just read his book yesterday, his position is: I don’t want to define myself using as the criteria my sexual impulses. I am something greater than, different from, beyond that. Although, that’s certainly a part of who I am, it’s not the definitive standard by which I say, ‘This is who this individual is.’

MP: Well, then at that point maybe maybe we ought to just say, ‘I am a sinful Christian. You know, that’s how I define myself.’ Rather than picking out the particular sin that besets you most or maybe even defines you most on a daily basis or from the cultural standpoint.

SS: But, Michael, this raises—we’re coming full-circle here and we’re almost out of time. And that is: Is human sexuality different from every other aspect of our existence as human beings? Is it something so pervasive, so inescapable, so intimate, so real, so pressing that it’s different from everything else that we face? Like I said, we don’t find people defining themselves with another adjective relating to some particular behavioral pattern. Whether it’s righteous or unrighteous. But is there something about human sexuality that makes it different and special?

Theology Unplugged is presented by Credo House. For more information visit CredoHouse.org.

Disclaimer: All quotations are transcribed as spoken by the participants. They have not been checked for accuracy.

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