Learning from Lesbians (Jeff Cook)

This post is by Jeff Cook and describes what he has learned about the church and about the Christian faith from two lesbians in his church community in Colorado. My discussions with pastors around the USA have revealed to me that at the local level the presence (and the non-presence by exclusion) of persons who are gay or lesbian in local churches often creates ambiguity — include, reject, in what ways? That is, here is what happens by way of questions: Can homosexual persons attend? be members? participate in Eucharist? teach Sunday School? participate in mission trips? Do you draw lines? Where?

What I’ve Learned from the Lesbians in My Church by Jeff Cook

Often those who live and work in church-world have one ambition for those in our communities who are gay—and it’s changing them.

How do I move this person out of their relationships, out of their culture? How do I encourage them toward abstinence and a different perception of themselves? How do I speak to them about the strong words of the Bible in a way that may be transformative and not insulting? How do I tame their sexual preferences through my insightful words and display of biblical truth?

Recently, many have begun to question whether this is the best approach to engaging our gay brothers and sisters, and the topic itself has gone nuclear. Churches across the country have split or fired staff because of their opinions or their confessions of sexual struggle. Recently, the church I planted lost a third of its support because of its approach to homosexuals in our community, and here is where the American Church sits: in a place of pain and tension, with both sides now solidifying.

Disunity and stagnation are unhealthy, and perhaps we have hit this stalemate because we need new ways of approaching the topic of homosexuality. Perhaps we are not asking the right kinds of questions. In this vain I’d like to offer a different vantage point and confess that some of the most instructive experiences I have had this year came from a set of lesbian women in my church.

These women have been some of the true treasures given to me this year by the Spirit of God. I have never experienced Christians loving other Christians who routinely assaulted them the way I have with these girls. It’s one thing to get hurt by another person in a church. It is quite another to be the object of dispute, to have every conversation filtered, to be told by the staff that your church is losing people (and their tithe money) because you choose to attend.

Watching these women has helped me to see how to love other Christians who are antagonistic toward me. Who mock my church in my city and post cutting remarks on their Facebook page about us. These women routinely extend grace and understanding to those trying to change them. They are not foolish. They have clearly established boundaries, but they have also chosen to return love for condemnation—and it’s an amazing thing to watch.

I have learned other lessons that are more personal from these women as well.

I have no sisters, I have no daughters, and I left my mom’s home to live with my dad when I was 14. In retrospect, I was never taught how to relate to other females in non-sexually charged ways. My experience with women up to my marriage 12 years ago was always about attraction and potential courtship. My wife is both brilliant and beautiful, but that mindset toward other females hasn’t gone away because I now have a ring. Such habits were pressed into my psyche and given fuel by my nature, my culture, and the reckless whispers of sin itself. But my experience with the lesbians in my church has become the most important tool for changing how I relate to other women.

From early on in our friendship, I routinely got large hugs from these women

and realized there wasn’t a sexual undercurrent. I know they are not attracted to me, and I know I’m not attracted to them, and so all the base emotions that too often cloud my relationships with other females were simply gone. Because of these women I began to experience—perhaps for the first time—what a “sister in Christ” is, what that relationship feels like, and what my disposition toward other females ought to entail.

This has been an absolute treasure. Once that door was opened—once I saw how things could be—it became far easier to choose to take that mindset and apply it to the other women in my life. I find I’m now able to turn off the voice moving me to pursue and replace it with the far healthier “this is your daughter, this is your sister” picture I learned from my gay friends. Apparently the lesbians in my church have sanctifying power.

A final lesson has been about God’s priorities. One of the lesbian women who now serves in our church had a dramatic conversion experience and life change that was unlike anything I have seen before. I cannot think of anyone else who, after encountering Christ, changed so many of her habits, pursuits, and priorities. She is a radically different person and her transformation was unmistakably the work of God’s Spirit. But apparently the Holy Spirit is not interested in transforming her sexuality yet, and I find that worthy of note.

Why would God refrain? According to most of Christian culture her sexuality ought to have been the Spirit’s first target for conviction and repair, but her experience was not unique. I hear from those in other churches that gay men and women coming to faith and clearly stepping into a life of discipleship and sanctification are likewise not experiencing God transforming their sexual preferences. So how should we read this?

In the early church, the Jewish Christians became convinced that God desired to save Gentiles through faith in Christ alone, because they saw the Holy Spirit at work in the lives of the Gentiles. The common understanding of conversion in the first century was that one needed to physically change—to be circumcised and give up certain foods in order to be acceptable to God. But the early church shifted its perception of this entire group of people, not because of the Bible (the Bible was clear that all males needed to be circumcised and eating shellfish was a no-no), but because they saw the work of the Holy Spirit bursting forth from the lives of these Gentile believers.

After seeing the Spirit’s work, they changed the rules of inclusion.

I do not have a clear conviction from Christ on this point, but I wonder if that same lesson is being offered to the American Church, who so clearly sees the Holy Spirit alive and awake in some of our gay friends. I wonder if empirically we might make the same move as the first Christians who disregarded the many verses on circumcision and food laws, disregarded traditional mores, and embraced the present activity of God’s Spirit in their midst as authoritative.

I think if we did, we would not only begin to see God in new ways, we might gain many new sisters, many new brothers—just as the early church did.

Jeff Cook teaches philosophy at UNC. He is the Author of Seven: the Deadly Sins and the Beatitudes and the recently released Everything New: One Philosophers Search for a God Worth Believing In. You can find him at: www.everythingnew.org and @jeffvcook

 

About Scot McKnight

Scot McKnight is a recognized authority on the New Testament, early Christianity, and the historical Jesus. McKnight, author of more than fifty books, is the Professor of New Testament at Northern Seminary in Lombard, IL.

  • James Petticrew

    A lot to think about there, I pray for wisdom as I process it, praying for grace for your church and the people who post here in response to what you have written.

  • Joe Canner

    Great post. People think that I am overly tolerant of gays (personally and theologically) because my sister is a lesbian. But what it really boils down to is that I see her testimony and her desire to serve and protect the underprivileged and her devotion to God and I realize that the Holy Spirit has his own agenda in her life. Who am I to judge how the sins and good works in her life should be weighed and balanced?

  • TJJ

    I am not going to be critical of the author’s life and ministry experience. It is what it it, it isn’t what it isn’t. However, I do not think the analogy or comparison of the early church outreach to gentiles holds theological water. It’s a nice try, but to me it falls short.

  • Rick

    Joe Canner #2-

    “Who am I to judge how the sins and good works in her life should be weighed and balanced?”

    I am not completely sure what you meant by that, but how does 1 Corinthians 5 relate to that?:

    “9 I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people— 10 not at all meaning the people of this world who are immoral, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters. In that case you would have to leave this world. 11 But now I am writing to you that you must not associate with anyone who claims to be a brother or sister[c] but is sexually immoral or greedy, an idolater or slanderer, a drunkard or swindler. Do not even eat with such people. 12 What business is it of mine to judge those outside the church? Are you not to judge those inside? 13 God will judge those outside. “Expel the wicked person from among you.”

  • Kyle J

    @Rick

    Does what you read about these women above bring to mind “wickedness”?

  • Jim

    This is very helpful to me for reasons I am not at liberty to discuss. Suffice it say that I have a similar couple in my congregation and one who has chosen to mary in a different state from the state in which they/we are located.

    While I certainly appreciate Jeff’s church’s hospitality and do all I can to foster that in the church I serve as well, I do wonder how a church balances hospitality to LBGT individuals and couples while at the same time attempting to foster a strong marriage culture.

    I suppose some might say that one way to lessen that tension is to extend the same rights of marriage to LGBT brothers and sister as to heterosexual couples and we will see over the next few months which way that is going to go in terms of the law.

    I guess my question is: “Is it possible to both welcome LGBT individuals and couples into fellowship while supporting a strong (‘traditional’) marriage culture or will one or the other side of that equation fade away from the church?’

  • Rick

    Kyle #5-

    The passage would appear to speak for itself. I am open to considering various viewpoints on that, but that passage did come to mind.

  • Jim W.

    Rick,
    I’m not sure there would be many people lefton our churches if we all literally followed this passage. My point is on this issue I see the church/ many Christians getting caught up and in arms over homosexuality and same sex marriage, while ignoring the plank in our own eye. Namely Divorce, sexual immorality, porn addiction, greed , slander, etc… My heart breaks for all the families who are torn apart every day by divorce. When will the divorce rate of Christians start to look better than non Christians? Why has the church come to accept that divorce is ok?

  • http://seldomwrong.blogspot.com SWNID

    I continue to SMH when otherwise thoughtful, well-informed Christians raise the canard about the Levitical code. There’s an ancient, coherent theological approach to this, utterly uncontroversial for most of the church’s history, and it frankly doesn’t help to obscure it in this discussion.

  • Ricky

    This whole issue came to a head last year at our church when a young man, a week before his high school graduation, came out in a very public way. This made things a little more complicated, so I am not sure that we would handle every situation in the same way. The issue with him was that he was becoming sort of divisive and combative about the whole thing. So we put him under church discipline. He is not permitted to take communion, teach Sunday school, or vote in congregational meetings. He is allowed to attend church, but can not participate in fellowship meals of any kind.

    I sort of have a problem with how so many Christians are approaching this whole issue. I hear people say, “Well we ignore the whole shellfish thing, so maybe we should ignore this and just let them in.” I don’t know… It just sounds like we are making the bible irrelevant and taking away it’s authority. That doesn’t seem ideal to me.

    Sin, all sin, is subhuman behavior. That is that it isn’t the way humanity is supposed to behave. God created us a certain way, for a certain purpose and as a result of being broken we do not live that way. But Jesus didn’t come so that we could continue and live that way without consequences. He came to make all things new. To put things back to what they were originally supposed to be. Homosexuality isn’t something that a Christian person is supposed to do.

  • Rick

    Jim W.-

    I am with you on the divorce issue. The others you listed are valid as well, but here is the problem: Although many in our churches are dealing with those sins, few try to claim they are ok to do. Even with the sins people sometimes joke about/admit to (covet, jealousy, etc…), there still is a sense that they are sins.

    One reason the homosexual issue stands out is because many see it as an issue in which many are trying to reclassify from sin, to non-sin.

  • Jim W.

    Rick,
    Divorce isn’t a thing Christians are supposed to do and yet somewhere around half of all Christian marriages end in divorce. Pretty much the same success rate of non Christian marriages.

  • Rick

    Jim W. #12-

    And that is a problem. The church has dropped the ball on that.

  • Adam

    @Rick #7

    How do you deal with the other people in that passage? “greedy, an idolater or slanderer, a drunkard or swindler”

    It seems to me that greed, idolatry, slander, drunkenness and swindling are easier to hide and therefore easier to ignore. It seems pretty obvious that we elevate sexual sin as a worse sin than greed. Let’s first find a way to change all the greedy people then let’s work on the sexually impure.

  • dguy

    The comparison between homosexuality and divorce amongst heterosexual couples is apples and oranges.

    Remember, divorce was something instituted by God through Moses as a protective measure when a spouse has grown hard hearted.

    Homosexuality was never instituted by God.

  • Adam

    Rick,

    Apparently I was posting at the same time you were and I think you already responded to my question. I respond to some of your other comments.

    In #11 you said “Although many in our churches are dealing with those sins, few try to claim they are ok to do.”

    I don’t think this is actually accurate. The seven deadly sins (sloth, pride, lust, wrath, etc..) are rampant in the church and most of the time we say nothing about it. Sex sins are the scapegoat and punching bag that allow us to ignore all the others. The “plank in our own eye” and “let he who has no sin cast the first stone” should be shaping us here. We are OBVIOUSLY ignoring most of the deadly sins, we should put serious effort into dealing with our own sin problems before we start dealing with someone else’s sin problem.

    If prideful people (the worst of the 7) are allowed to take communion, why not the sexually impure?

  • Mat

    Where is the boundary between Christian hospitality and syncretism? If all sin stems from idolatry in its various forms, it is clear that we tolerate all sorts of idolatry in our churches today. And yes, it seems that Jesus doesn’t immediately remove all of those idolatries from our lives at once. Perhaps we need greater creativity and boldness in confronting the idols of money and power as well as sex, but we mustn’t insist that our particular idolatry is okay.

  • http://caveat1ector.wordpress.com Hydroxonium

    (Before I begin, I’d like to thank whoever removed my previous comments that were uncivil in content/tone, and apologise for them. I’ll strive to avoid the same mistakes. Thanks again!)

    “From early on in our friendship, I routinely got large hugs from these women
    and realized there wasn’t a sexual undercurrent. I know they are not attracted to me, and I know I’m not attracted to them, and so all the base emotions that too often cloud my relationships with other females were simply gone. Because of these women I began to experience—perhaps for the first time—what a “sister in Christ” is, what that relationship feels like, and what my disposition toward other females ought to entail.”

    I think virtually all Christians have struggled to figure out whether homosexuality is objectively wrong (apart from because the bible says so). Interestingly, the principle which undergirds my personal conclusions is reflected in the above quote from the author.

    For me, as a male person, it is a wonderful thing to be able to interact with my male friends without any sexual undercurrent. I think the same is likewise true for females. I shall call this the sanctity principle of same-sex platonic friendships. Thus, we can see how the sanctity of such friendships could be threatened if homosexuality is condoned.

    Incidentally, the same principle extends to marriage. Being faithfully married to a wife allows a man to have platonic friendships with other women, with the tacit understanding that such friendship is not for sex. If infidelity is condoned, the sanctity of such friendships would likewise be compromised.

    (I speak as someone who lives in a country where homosexual acts are criminalised by statutory law. I myself have argued that Christians in this country should not vehemently defend this law, because God’s law should work from within the heart, and is not meant to be coercively imposed by external forces.)

  • Kristin

    I appreciate Jeff’s approach here. Instead of making homosexuality some sort of litmus test spirituality, the larger question is what constitutes a notable work of the Holy Spirit in a person’s life? Is it about checking off boxes of sin management, or a posture towards God that is receptive to correction and sanctification? Ultimately do we trust the Holy Spirit to do the regenerative work in a person’s life?

  • Rick

    Adam #15-

    “If prideful people (the worst of the 7) are allowed to take communion, why not the sexually impure?”

    Great question. But is the answer to just allow the sexually impure to believe they are not doing anything wrong, or is the answer to better, in stronger terms, address the other sins you mentioned?

    Again, my initial pointing out of that passage was the “judge” aspect that Joe Canner brought up. It appears, from the passage, we are to have some kind of standards within the church.

    I greatly appreciated Hunter’s “The Celtic Way of Evangelism” in regards to building relationships and community, which then allowed the faith to impact lives. However, there is a tension between that and the above passage from Scripture.

  • Ricky

    Jim W. #12

    Which Rick are you talking too? Anyway… I agree with the other Rick, Rick #13. the church has dropped the ball on divorce, but that should in no way be an argument for making homosexuality legit. Sexual immorality is never a good thing and instead of defending those who practice such things we should be trying to help them overcome them.

  • Phil Miller

    It’s not just sins such as divorce that are overlooked. Regarding the 7 deadly sins mentioned above, many of them are actually celebrated in the church in one way or another. Pride in terms of nationalism is a good example of something that many churches actually celebrate as a virtue. How many churches still sing patriotic hymns on days like Memorial Day and the Fourth of July? Quite a few in my estimation. And then there’s of course greed and gluttony.

    I think as far as the situation in 1 Corinthians 5, I think that’s referring to a very public sin that someone was engaging that was making a mockery of the faith itself. I don’t think the issue was necessarily the purity of the church. The issue is all tied up with Paul earlier concerns in the letter of people calling into question the authenticity of his Apostleship. So from Paul’s perspective, letting this sort of stuff go on unchecked was simply giving ammunition to his detractors. That’s why it needed to be dealt. It affected not only the church life, but the Gospel declaration itself. I’m not saying analogous situations couldn’t arise today, but I think in most cases where it’s brought this passage of Scripture gets misused.

  • Ricky

    Ok we get it. The church in North America is unhealthy. I don’t think anyone would argue with that. But that is not a good defense of homosexual behavior.

  • Michael J.

    I finally stepped out of “church” after almost 30 years and have put my finger on the “sin” that Paul says will keep many out of the Kingdom. It fuels “church,” and its called gossip. I have been stunned by the damage it has done to so many communities. In light of that I have never, in the last 30 years had anyone sit before me as a pastor and confess their “gossip, greed, pride, gluttony, or the nationalistic idolatry that #21 Phil speaks of above (which may be just a guarded form of ethnocentrism, racism in too many cases). Mission to Cuba, Haiti, Dominican Republic had me accosted any number of times. I am convinced there are readings of the primary document that have great integrity that do not see such loving and covenantal relationships as “morally wrong.” I am also amused about how “grace” is extended for all manner of things owned up to and not owned up to. If I happen to be wrong about same sex, covenantally faithful relationships, I will beg God’s grace and mercy, and trust in God’s forgiveness for me.

  • Joe Canner

    Rick #4: Others have addressed your question to me regarding how I Cor. 5 is to be implemented. Not only are we not consistent on how we implement it, but it is very difficult to do today because people just find another church that doesn’t know or doesn’t care about the issues that got them excommunicated.

    But more to the point, look at the purpose of Paul’s admonition: “…a little yeast leavens the whole batch of dough. Get rid of the old yeast…” (vss. 6-7) When the church tolerates sin, everybody assumes it is OK and feels that they can do what they please. Aside from the very pertinent question of what the Bible says (or doesn’t say) about monogamous same-sex relationships, there is no evidence to suggest that tolerating such relationships is going to result in an increased prevalence of them. In fact, the prevalence of same-sex orientation has remained steady at 5% or less, despite a significant increased acceptance of it over the last few decades.

  • Adam

    Rick #19

    “But is the answer to just allow the sexually impure to believe they are not doing anything wrong, or is the answer to better, in stronger terms, address the other sins you mentioned?”

    The direct answer to your question and to Ricky’s comment 22 would be “no, it’s not a defense”. But I see this as the entirely wrong approach. Let’s make this an even playing ground. Every time you correct a person for sexual immorality they get to correct you for pride. Actually, maybe that’s a great idea. If we are allowed to deny communion to homosexuals, then every time we do this we also deny ourselves communion for pride, sloth, etc… Turn this into an equal relationship, my sin is equal to their sin and together we suffer the same punishment.

    And that’s the point. There is hypocrisy going on where certain sins are somehow worse than other sins. When we insist that homosexuals are not admitting their sin, we are ignoring that we too are not admitting our sin. Maybe I just need to repeat it 12 billion times, but Plank, Plank, Plank, Plank, Plank….

    First and foremost, what is our Plank? Full stop. Do not pass Go. Do not start looking at someone else’s speck. Your plank, my plank, what is it? Have I confessed each and every instance of my own sin? Really? What am I excusing myself for and not owning?

    So, if church discipline is something you want to uphold, be very, very conscious of applying it to everyone and in equal measure. Let’s make a test. Sexual immorality is 1 item out of 6 in the Corinthians passage you cited. Therefore, every person who receives church discipline for sexuality, there should be 5 other people receiving discipline for the other sins. If you do not have this ratio you are displaying hypocrisy.

    I think what you will find is what we already know, “All have sinned”. If we’re going to receive grace for ourselves let’s not deny it to others.

  • http://everythingnew.org Jeff Cook

    Many thanks to all for the comments.

    I would love to hear thoughts on the final argument in the post: why is it that many gay folk are redeemed and becoming sanctified and apparently not challenge to work on their sexual preferences by the Spirit?

  • Rick

    Joe Canner-

    Thanks for your response.

    “Others have addressed your question to me regarding how I Cor. 5 is to be implemented.”

    “Is to be implemented”? Really? I have yet to see in this thread a sufficient proposal put forth, let alone put such certainty in that proposal.

    In regards to vss. 6-7, was Paul saying people only will tolerate that specific sin, or will they tolerate sin in general? The 5% stat means little if it is a sin.

  • Rick

    Jeff #26-

    “apparently not challenge to work on their sexual preferences by the Spirit?”

    Perhaps the Spirit is challenging them in regards to how they are to handle those preferences.

  • Phil Miller

    I would love to hear thoughts on the final argument in the post: why is it that many gay folk are redeemed and becoming sanctified and apparently not challenge to work on their sexual preferences by the Spirit?

    That’s a tough question. I have known people who have claimed to experience such things. The whole issue of a person being ex-gay is quite controversial in and of itself. In some ways I think a Christian who identifies as gay is a lose-lose situation. No matter what they end up doing, there will be people who claim they aren’t being true to themselves.

    Another analogous situation I can think of is I’ve heard all sorts of testimonies from people who were addicted to drugs and/or alcohol before having an encounter with Christ, and immediately afterward they just stopped cold-turkey and never went back. But I know other people who have struggled with addictions for years. It’s one of things that I’m just not sure there’s an easy answer for.

  • phil_style

    Why do we need to invoke 1 Corinthians 5? That passage is talking about an extramarital affair which was considered immoral even by pagan standards – according to St. Paul. The “sin” committed here is rivalrous, based in memetic desire. And the community has sided with the perpetrator against the victim [the father] – even to the point of boasting about his [the son's] activities!

    If monogamous homosexuality is “immoral” and belongs in the same category as that list of acts described by Paul, we have to clearly demonstrate that. Simply assuming it fits in the same box just makes us look like the bigots we’re famed for being.

  • Kyle J

    @Rick

    No, it doesn’t “speak for itself.” It requires an interpretation of the term “sexual immorality.”

    To many who personally know people involved in monogamous gay relationships, their behavior strikes us as being very different from the other forms of wickedness mentioned in the passage. There’s no evidence of the same negative spillover effects that adultery, drunkenness, or greediness result in.

    As for the fact that churches don’t try to expel the greedy or the slanderous, I’d argue that, yes, that may be an argument for being more gracious in this area. “Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.”

  • Michael J.

    I would dare say #26 Jeff, in my mind, heart, and spirit that the answer to your question is evident. You have stated what life looks like on the ground in the community where you live and where people live out the life of the Spirit. Apparently, in the lived expression of people on the ground where all appear to be aligning their lives up with the Spirt, the sexual preference issue does not appear to be an (necessarily correctable) issue to the Spirit of God. Of course it’s quite risky to say that out loud isn’t it?

  • Joe Canner

    Rick #27: Perhaps I wasn’t clear. You implied that I Cor 5 *could* be implemented; others (including myself) have questioned how it can be consistently and effectively implemented. Unless *you* have a “sufficient proposal” then the answer to your original question to me should be that I Cor 5 has little relevance to what Jeff Cook or I had to say.

    Yes, I suppose it is possible that tolerating same-sex relationships could signal a tolerance for sin generally. If there was actually a church that tolerated same-sex relationships and no other sins then I guess we could find out. Given, however, the low prevalence of same-sex relationships (especially in churches), I have my doubts as to what effect this would have on morality generally, given that this would be dwarfed by the prevalence of so many other sins. As Michael said in #23, I’ll take my chances with erring on the side of love in this case.

  • http://caveat1ector.wordpress.com Hydroxonium

    Jeff Cook, you said: “I would love to hear thoughts on the final argument in the post: why is it that many gay folk are redeemed and becoming sanctified and apparently not challenged to work on their sexual preferences by the Spirit?”

    Here’s why:

    The sword of the Spirit is God’s word (Eph 6:17).

    Hebrews 4:12
    New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
    12 Indeed, the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing until it divides soul from spirit, joints from marrow; it is able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart.

    Perhaps they have yet to be fully acquainted with God’s word. The Spirit and God’s word must work together. One cannot function without the other (1 Cor 2:12-16).

  • Adam

    @Jeff #26

    “Why is it that many gay folk are redeemed and becoming sanctified and apparently not challenge to work on their sexual preferences by the Spirit?”

    Starting with the definition that gay means same sex attraction, I want to emphasize attraction. Does the spirit influence attraction? I’ve heard no instances of a person claiming to change their attraction from blondes to brunettes based on spiritual influence. How about people who’s sexual preference is animals? Or even better, what about all those people who are redeemed but don’t feel challenged by the spirit to work on their obesity?

    I don’t think this is a “gay only” issue and it really confuses the problem when we approach the topic like it is. In christianity, we unite sex and marriage, but Jesus clearly told the Sadducees that eventually people won’t be married. I then assume that sex won’t be such an issue either. This represents the core of the problem to me; sexual orientation or romantic attraction, are not a part of a person’s identity.

    This means the Spirit would be more interested in shaping someone’s character and is less concerned with that person’s attraction. But it also means that a person’s attraction is not as rigid as is commonly stated. We, in fact, do have control over our sexual behavior. (as humans, yes individuals have struggles but with support and community they can over come them)

    So, I don’t think the Spirit’s prompting is any kind of litmus test of good / not good and I don’t think this society and culture treats sexuality in the same way that previous societies have.

  • phil_style

    @Hydroxonium. Or perhaps it is in fact we who are unacquainted with God’s word (refusing to sit with the “unclean”) and fail to see his work among those who are not heterosexual.

  • Bryan

    Jeff,

    You raise an interesting point. My question to you would be this:

    How would you handle a situation where you know you have a man or woman (heterosexual) who is actively engaging in extramarital sex, but shows the fruits of the Spirit in other ways? Would you allow that man or woman to continue receiving communion? Teach a Sunday School class? Be a youth mentor? Be a member and be part of small groups and so on?

    I’d tend to say that the last one would be fine but the others would be questionable. Should we handle homosexuals differently than that?

  • LexCro

    Jeff Cook said: “I would love to hear thoughts on the final argument in the post: why is it that many gay folk are redeemed and becoming sanctified and apparently not challenge to work on their sexual preferences by the Spirit?”

    Jeff, I actually agree with much of what you put forth here. And I applaud you for the kind of patience that you and your church are exercised towards these two women. I’m a fan of saying that the church should be a communal laboratory for discernment. I sense that much of what you’re going for here. I ministered for nine years in college campus ministry, and we had gay men and women in our campus fellowships. I saw the Spirit do powerful things in their lives that had little or nothing to do with their sexuality. This was a testament to God’s grace. All of them wanted God to change their sexuality, but here’s where the results were mixed. I have seen some students become heterosexual (and they still are well beyond college). I have seen others receive the ability to remain celibate despite continued homosexual attraction. I have seen others attempt to reconcile their homosexual desires with Scripture and persist in a gay lifestyle while professing Christ. And others simply walked away from the Lord and are now living gay lifestyles.

    If you want to tell me that the Holy Spirit has more to do in peoples’ lives than just batter their hearts about their sexuality, I’m with you all the way. I once heard a testimony from a former long-time lesbian who converted to Christ. To her surprise, the first thing that the Lord did was to heavily convict and challenge her for being a persistent liar. Without question, the Lord eventually shepherded her through homosexual practices, but the Lord did not reduce her to her homosexuality. Without question, there is far more to New Creation in Christ than our sexuality! However, it wasn’t like the Lord didn’t want to address it at all.

    But I’ve got to ask you something: How do you know that the Lord is NOT challenging these women to turn from their lesbianism? As a happily married man who has walked a long road to sexual freedom (and its twin brother constant vigilance) I can say that the Lord has not reduced me to my proclivity to lust after women. However, it’s also not like He gives me a pass on this, either. Not by a long shot. I’ve had many instances when the the Spirit was speaking to me about turning around certain areas of my life, urging me to repent of sin, but I chose to remain non-responsive. Does an unwillingness to repent in one area of life mean that the Lord isn’t doing ANYTHING in any other area of our lives? Surely not. Can a Christian slum-lord repent of injustice towards his tenants while he still refuses the urging of the Spirit to treat his wife and kids better? Yep. Can a Christian find Spirit-empowered victory over gluttony only to remain enslaved to covetousness and envy? Yep. In both of these instances, sanctification in one area of life doesn’t give us a pass in another. The scales don’t balance out.

    If you want to tell me that God sanctifies graciously and gradually, I’m all for it because it’s what we see in Scripture and I know this from my own experience. But we can’t just limit the Spirit’s work to what He’s already done and then turn a blind eye what He wants to do in the future in someone’s life. Discernment is deeply patient communal work, but it eventually leads to Christ-likeness and holiness. The journey may be up for grabs at times, but the result is not.

  • http://caveat1ector.wordpress.com Hydroxonium

    phil_style (#37),

    While that is true, we must also acknowledge the principle in 1 Cor 5:11 (http://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=1%20cor%205&version=NRSV;CEB;NET;YLT;KJV).

    We all do our best to understand God’s word and act accordingly. It largely depends on whether we consider homosexuality immoral.

  • phil_style

    @Hydroxonium, yes – the “morality” of homosexuality coupled with the intent and/ or application of 1 Cor 5 is important.

  • Rick

    Phil #31 & Joe #34-

    1 Corinthians 5 was brought into the conversation based on the judging within the church aspect.

    Kyle J #32-

    “same negative spillover effects”

    Is that the basis of how we are to determine what is wicked, or even sin?

    Besides, later in 1 Cor (Ch. 6), adultery and homosexuality are placed together.

    My point is not to ignore planks in our own eyes (I certainly have had plenty to confess to).

  • Peggy Q

    Jeff, to answer your question on why us gay women and men are not challenged by our ” higher power” to work on our sexual preference… There is no reason to…. Simple as that! It is our norm… It is how we were born… I am no different than anyone else with the one exception of who I sleep with… I work hard, play hard, love hard and am a good and kind person… That’s basically all there is in this life. Your wife, (my Niece) was raised around me and my girlfriend of 20+ years…. If she was good she was praised, if she was bad, she was scolded…. She sees no difference in couples gay or straight. My father once told me and one our family members when he was being very mean spirited forwards myself and my girlfriend…. “Do you think God makes mistakes? ” if so he’s made a hell of a lot of mistakes because over 10% of the worlds population is gay… So who are you to judge this girl? My father was older and came from the WWII generation. He knew I was gay, and never discussed it much with me. I imagine because it was probably uncomfortable for him. When he made that statement it uplifted me and let me know that he was okay with who I am. I have let those words help through many many many prejudice moments in my life. I live and let live… Who or what gives anyone the superiority to judge and say whom anyone can love? As the old saying goes…. Hate is NOT a family value!

  • Joe Canner

    Bryan #38, Hope you don’t mind me butting in here…

    I would say that there is one very significant difference between the scenario you described and the one Jeff described. As far as the church is concerned, the heterosexual couple has a very simple way to solve their problem: get married. In contrast, a same-sex couple has a quite different and much more difficult way: abstain. So, regardless of whether one believes that same-sex relationships are sinful or not, considerably more grace, patience, and tolerance are required in the latter case than in the former.

  • Bryan

    Joe said: “I would say that there is one very significant difference between the scenario you described and the one Jeff described. As far as the church is concerned, the heterosexual couple has a very simple way to solve their problem: get married. In contrast, a same-sex couple has a quite different and much more difficult way: abstain. So, regardless of whether one believes that same-sex relationships are sinful or not, considerably more grace, patience, and tolerance are required in the latter case than in the former.”
    ——————————————————-

    I think that you’re narrowing the scope at bit too much though. In general, anyone that finds themselves dealing with temptations to sin or that is actively engaged in a habitual, regular sin has the same choices to make:

    1. If the sinful action can be modified to fit within Scriptural guidelines, make that modification.

    2. If there is no righteous way to continue engaging in the action in question, abstain.

    But beyond that, I’ll give another example…a man who is already married is having an ongoing sexual relationship with a woman he is not married to. His choice would be the same as the lesbian couple…cease participating in the sinful acts. And I could give many more examples that have nothing to do with sex. The point is how would we treat any other individual that we know to be not only persisting in serious sin but claiming that what they are doing is not sin afterall? Should we not treat men or women actively engaging in same-sex acts the same way?

  • Larry

    A good tree produces good fruit. If these lesbians’ relationship produces love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control — then their relationship is good. Full stop. Woe to those who call good, evil!

  • Joe Canner

    Bryan #45: By jumping from pre-marital sex to adultery (and beyond) you have crossed a significant line, in my opinion. Pre-marital sex (same- or opposite-gender) affects the two parties involved, but generally does not harm anyone else. Adultery, and most other sins that I can think of, are sins precisely because they have adverse effects on others. In other words, they are violations of “Love your neighbor”. For this reason, I (individually or as part of a church) would have much more concern about things that harm others than things that don’t. This is not necessarily to say that the latter are not sins, but rather that different levels of grace and tolerance are required.

    If you had limited “political capital” in your church (i.e., you didn’t want to excommunicate everyone for every last sin), would you focus your efforts on a couple that is tearing up their family because of adultery or divorce, or an unmarried couple that is sleeping together?

  • Larry

    “I wonder if empirically we might make the same move as the first Christians who disregarded the many verses on circumcision and food laws, disregarded traditional mores, and embraced the present activity of God’s Spirit in their midst as authoritative.”

    Not only *can* you do this, but you would join many of us Christians who already do. Don’t be afraid! Follow where God is leading!

  • Alan K

    “I wonder if empirically we might make the same move as the first Christians who disregarded the many verses on circumcision and food laws, disregarded traditional mores, and embraced the present activity of God’s Spirit in their midst as authoritative.”

    Was this not what Paul was exhorting the Corinthians to do? Are we to understand that the Spirit now says a different word?

  • Bryan

    Larry said: “A good tree produces good fruit. If these lesbians’ relationship produces love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control — then their relationship is good. Full stop. Woe to those who call good, evil!”
    —————————————————————

    This makes a huge assumption: that God could not possibly be making progress toward Christlikeness in some areas of a person’s life while a person still resists or lacks understanding of God’s call to surrender in other areas.

    I hardly see anyone calling the good fruit in these women’s lives evil. But neither does that mean that because there is evidence of the Spirit working in them that everything they (or any of us) do is therefore a-okay.

  • Bryan

    Joe said: “Bryan #45: By jumping from pre-marital sex to adultery (and beyond) you have crossed a significant line, in my opinion. Pre-marital sex (same- or opposite-gender) affects the two parties involved, but generally does not harm anyone else. Adultery, and most other sins that I can think of, are sins precisely because they have adverse effects on others. In other words, they are violations of “Love your neighbor”. For this reason, I (individually or as part of a church) would have much more concern about things that harm others than things that don’t. This is not necessarily to say that the latter are not sins, but rather that different levels of grace and tolerance are required.

    “If you had limited “political capital” in your church (i.e., you didn’t want to excommunicate everyone for every last sin), would you focus your efforts on a couple that is tearing up their family because of adultery or divorce, or an unmarried couple that is sleeping together?”
    ——————————————————

    I realize that some sins are more serious than others by virtue of the harm they cause to those other than the active participants. But all of the things I mentioned are *serious* sins. I realize most Protestants don’t divide sins into “mortal” or “venial” categories but we do innately understand that sins such as adultery and fornication are of a different severity than some other things.

    But I’ll also note, you didn’t exactly answer my question. Even looking at the unmarried heterosexual man or woman having sex with someone else who is also unmarried…how would you handle that? Of the roles or levels of participation I mentioned, which would you allow for them if they persisted in this sinful activity and even argued that what they were doing was not even sinful at all? Would it differ in how you treat this lesbian couple? If so, why?

  • Larry

    Bryan #50 — it is no less huge an assumption to assert that their relationship is somehow evil, despite all the evidence to the contrary.

  • Bryan

    Larry said “it is no less huge an assumption to assert that their relationship is somehow evil, despite all the evidence to the contrary.
    ——————————————————————

    That isn’t really a rebuttal.

    But besides that, I haven’t seen anyone say that their “relationship” is evil. Certain specific aspects of how they express that relationship are sinful. In other words, as I stated, the fact that God might be making big time changes and significant progress in some areas of their life does not therefore mean that all they do is therefore good and right. The existence of the fruit of the Spirit in their lives does not thus make right those areas they’ve yet to surrender to him. Nor does it mean that when someone points out that same-sex sexual acts are sinful and that persisting in them is wrong that they are “calling evil that which is good.”

  • Joe Canner

    Bryan #51: I purposely avoided answering your question because I probably have a different view than you on whether same-sex relationships are sin, but I was trying to frame the debate in a way that doesn’t assume a particular stance on that issue. Implied in my answer is that I might be less tolerant of the heterosexual couple because they have options at their disposal. However, I would also be more tolerant of them than a person committing adultery. (In this context, by “tolerant” I mean allowing them to engage in the various church activities you mentioned.)

    In general, I would more-or-less agree with you that church attendance, small group attendance (and I would add communion) are OK, but ministries involving teaching might be problematic.

  • EricW

    This author, Michael Wood, presents an interesting perspective on what (according to him) Jesus and the NT teach or don’t teach re: homosexuality:

    http://www.jesusonhomosexuality.com/

    There are links to articles explaining and defending his thesis. If he’s right, prepare to have your paradigm possibly shifted.

  • Larry

    Bryan — It’s not a rebuttal because there’s no airtight logic on either side of this question. We both are forced to make some major assumptions. My choice, which I will take responsibility for in front of God, is to believe that every command of God, no matter what it is, is summed up in one command: “Love thy neighbor as thyself”; that love does no harm to a neighbor; and that therefore love is the fulfillment of the law. That’s where I sense the Holy Spirit.

    I take some risk making this assumption, sure, but I’m fine with that. This assumption allows me to share generously in the good fruits of the Spirit offered by women like these, without fear, without compunction.

    You’re free to make some other assumption, with all the responsibility and risks it entails. I think you’re getting a bum deal. But I certainly can’t logic you into changing your mind.

  • Rick

    Larry #56-

    “My choice, which I will take responsibility for in front of God, is to believe that every command of God, no matter what it is, is summed up in one command: “Love thy neighbor as thyself”; that love does no harm to a neighbor; and that therefore love is the fulfillment of the law. That’s where I sense the Holy Spirit.”

    Why do you assume that seeing homosexuality as sin is opposed to this? How does it go against love God (let’s not forget the first part of the command), & love others?

  • Bryan

    Larry said: Bryan — It’s not a rebuttal because there’s no airtight logic on either side of this question. We both are forced to make some major assumptions. My choice, which I will take responsibility for in front of God, is to believe that every command of God, no matter what it is, is summed up in one command: “Love thy neighbor as thyself”; that love does no harm to a neighbor; and that therefore love is the fulfillment of the law. That’s where I sense the Holy Spirit.

    I take some risk making this assumption, sure, but I’m fine with that. This assumption allows me to share generously in the good fruits of the Spirit offered by women like these, without fear, without compunction.

    You’re free to make some other assumption, with all the responsibility and risks it entails. I think you’re getting a bum deal. But I certainly can’t logic you into changing your mind.
    —————————————–

    What I really meant is that your response made no sense. It didn’t address anything I said. You created a strawman version of my position (that in calling a particular action “sin” that I was calling all the good things happening in their lives “evil”) and responded accordingly. I simply pointed out that no such thing was happening in the first place.

    This doesn’t require me to make any assumptions.

  • Tom F.

    I don’t have anything particularly to add, other than to say thank you for a good post. You mention that positions have hardened and people are quick to associate a particular experience or story with being either “for” or “against” their particular view. I feel some temptation to dive in to the discussion here, but I wonder if that might be a defense against having to acknowledge the ambiguity and tension that is simply going to be present around this issue for awhile yet.

    I’m glad that these two women were a blessing to you.

  • http://deadheroesdontsave.com/ MikeB (@g1antfan)

    Reading thru the comments and see lots of discussion around 1 Cor 5, planks, 7 deadly sins, and applying it consistently. I would just add to that that 1 Cor 5 (ie removal of a person from the community due to sin) would be the final result of applying Matt 18. Matt 18 starts with confronting a person in sin (in private) with the goal of seeking repentance and a change in how they act. It has several phases and the final result is removal due.

    So dealing with the sinner (regardless of sin) should start there. The issue here seems to stem from the fact that many balk at calling actively living a gay lifestyle (differentiated from the attraction/desires) a sin.

    Jeff, I am glad to hear that these women in your church display grace in difficult circumstances. But as to the main question – why is it that many gay folk are redeemed and becoming sanctified and apparently not challenge to work on their sexual preferences by the Spirit?

    Let’s ask it a different way – why is it that many sinning folk are redeemed and becoming sanctified and apparently not every sinful desire is being challenged by the Spirit?

    Because we are left with an old man and a new man. We have choices to make regarding temptations, desires, and how we act on them. Being saved does not mean we don’t struggle with our flesh.

    As to the Gentile inclusion as an example, keep in mind Peter received a prophetic dream and saw the HS poured on the initial converts with the “sign gifts”. That is a bit different from the flesh/Spirit struggles we all have after conversion. The expectation that some sin or desire should have been removed and was not should not be assumed to be an endorsement of that behavior or desire. While I don’t know anyone, I am sure examples of those who struggled with gay desires before being saved and now no longer do would also make this type of argumentation less persuasive.

    Thanks for asking good questions and keeping us honest on this tough topic.

  • http://www.walkingtogetherministries.org Wyman Richardson

    This is a very interesting thread. PeggyQ’s comment struck me as particularly interesting and raised a couple of questions in my mind.

    1. Peggy mentioned “this is how we [gay people] were born” (paraphrase, but close) in rejecting the idea that gay people needed to be transformed. I’m curious to know how the doctrine of the Fall plays into that response, if at all? I’m also curious to know (a) does that statement rely on the premise that innate proclivities are therefore good proclivities and (b) whether or not any of us truly believe (a) in any consistent manner (i.e., that those desires with which one is born are therefore justifiable desires by virtue of their being inherent)?

    2. Peggy mentioned that 10% of the world is gay. I was curious as to the origin of this statistic?

  • TJJ

    When will it then be ok for christian men who have spititual gifts and evidence of the Holy Spirit evident working in their life and ministry to live out their inborn desire to lust after and have sex with whatever consenting woman they choose………because that is how they were born? That is how their sex drive and desires roll?

    How can God make them like that? Are some 85% lusting hetro men mistakes? How can we judge then and push our sexual mores on them, how can we tell them no, don’ t have sex with every attractive willing woman? How does it hurt those who don’t want to have sex to let those who do, have it with whomever of the willing, opposite sex they want to?

    Seriously, this is how some of these agruments regarding the whole ” that’s how we are born” angle read and sound when placed into a different context. They resolve nothing. Human bengs are born wth a whole host of inclinations and drives, that in and of itself does not make any of them good or proper or holy or positive.

  • EricW

    A thought: I think if you permit couples in heterosexual marriages to engage in non-coital genital activity that does not each and every time conclude with coital genital intercourse, you have weakened any arguments you might have or make against sexual activity in loving committed same-sex unions unless you can otherwise explain or argue why a man can’t do to or with his male partner what a woman can do to or with her male spouse, or why a woman can’t do to or with her female partner what a man can do to or with his female spouse.

  • A Medrano

    Pornography. Many people do it. Many church members do it. Should we just legitimize it? And, when one chooses to become a follower of Jesus, and one says “God hasn’t worked on me with that yet”, should we then question the bible in place of the supposed work on the person?

  • Phil Miller

    TJJ #62,
    Of course the main difference in the argument is that for heterosexual men or women there is an outlet for which they can eventually engage in sexual activity and not have it be considered sinful. For someone who has same-sex attractions, we are saying there is no such outlet.

    And, btw, I actually probably do come down more on the side of the debate that homosexual sexual activity is outside the bounds of the Scriptural ethic. But I guess what surprises me in these discussions is the incredible lack of empathy that is displayed when it comes to this issue. I’m a heterosexual male, and I’m married, so honestly this issue effects me very little. I can have sex when I want, and I don’t have to worry about anyone considering it being sinful. However, if all I can say to a gay person is, “well, yeah, you have these desires, but they aren’t natural, and there’s no way you’ll ever have a sex-life that is consider God-honoring… sucks to be you!” I can understand why that would fall on deaf ears.

  • Larry

    Rick asks: “Why do you assume that seeing homosexuality as sin is opposed to this? How does it go against love God (let’s not forget the first part of the command), & love others?”

    Simple: The evidence is overwhelming that treating homosexual conduct as if it were sin has produced bad fruit. The doctrine cannot be a good tree if it produces bad fruit.

    Bryan says: “This doesn’t require me to make any assumptions.”

    You assume the sexual aspect of their relationship is sinful, despite having no evidence of bad fruit. I know why you make that assumption — it’s built on other assumptions about what scripture is, how it works, how it applies, and how its words about all commandments being fulfilled by love are subordinate to other words — but it’s still an assumption.

    I’ve got different assumptions, and no inerrant document proving that what I believe on this matter is true. But I’ll cop to that and join the good company of others like Peter and Paul who also had no documented proof of the Spirit’s leading.

  • Karin

    For me, the classifying of gay people as sinners feels less Christian and I have left churches and hesitated in calling myself a Christian because of it. I don’t want to be lumped together with the judgement and narrow-mindedness that I believe this represents. On the other hand, I am honored to be included in the true words of the teachings of JESUS. I want to shout to the world the beauty and amazement that has occurred in my life because of Him. The only way my life works is because of our surrender to God – and it saddens me that this surrender can be clouded by issues that further alienate and hurt beautiful and wonderful people living happy loving lives. I will not go to a church that hasn’t evolved their way of thinking and teaching to include people just as they are – just as God made them and to thrive and trust in God’s way for them. I am happy to read this post and would be happy to attend your church.

  • Larry

    What strikes me about this thread is how *fearful* people are. It reads like people are afraid that if we abandon the doctrine that homosexuality is sin, what next?! Pornography, adultery, dogs and cats living together, mass hysteria!

    As if the Holy Spirit isn’t real! As if the Holy Spirit is not active in the hearts and minds of those who believe! As if the Good Shepherd will fail to rescue his sheep! Have faith, folks. If this movement is not of God, nothing will come of it; if this movement is of God, nothing can stop it.

  • jason

    Not surprisingly, this discussion has turned to the question of sexuality and sin. But the larger and more important (IMO) issue this post raises is how churches, and I’m thinking of evangelical churches that do think homosexuality is a sin, will handle the presence of homosexuals in their communities.

    It seems only a matter of time until homosexual marriage is legal across the board. What then does the evangelical pastor do when such a married couple converts and wants to join the community? Require divorce first? Require a celibate marriage? Or perhaps how evangelicals typically deal w/ divorced and remarried heterosexual converts provides a useful model. Jesus seems quite clear that, other than the possible exception of infidelity, divorce and remarriage is a sin – the remarriage constitutes a form of adultery, right? And yet very few pastors would turn away a remarried heterosexual couple, even if their original divorces were “sinful”. Rather, they would be welcomed as they are, and encouraged to follow God and love Jesus together, as testaments of God’s grace. Why not also treat homosexual couples in a similar manner?

    [Full Disclosure: I'm not evangelical, and do not think homosexuality is inherently sinful. But I'm close to many evangelicals (my wife among them!), and still care very much about how this issue is addressed within this tradition.]

  • Tim Hatch

    It seems to me a great number of evangelicals are longing to disregard scripture in relation to homosexual acts. And they are searching for and finding their truth wherever it may please their own preference at this point.

    We are not supposed to be liked by everyone. It’s as simple as that from my perspective. Homosexual attraction is going to be the desire of some. But treating a practicing homosexual (someone having sex with the same sex) with different or lighter standards than we would someone practicing adultery or addiction to pornography is an abuse of the GRACE we have in Christ.

    We need to be “equal” in our treatment of the sinner. No, we cannot expect the desire to be gone on our time-table (that’s about the only thing I agree with here from Jeff Cook), but we can very plainly determine who is living in repentance and who is not.

    The Apostle’s words seem fair here:
    Ephesians 5:3 (ESV) “But sexual immorality and all impurity or covetousness must not even be named among you, as is proper among saints….
    Ephesians 5:5 (ESV) For you may be sure of this, that everyone who is sexually immoral or impure, or who is covetous (that is, an idolater), has no inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God. 6 Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience.”

  • http://www.nextreformation.com len hjalmarson

    Jeff, these are difficult issues, and complex. But I just want to say thanks for the courage to tell your story!

  • Alan K

    Larry #68,

    This is not about fear. The issue is merely the location of the fulcrum of larger conversation as to how God speaks. If it were clear that God identifies humanity according to desire as opposed to sex, then there wouldn’t be any conversation. But there is this conversation precisely because humanity categorized by orientation may or may not be a theological anthropology. As a Christian, I am interested in hearing God speak and witnessing to that reality.

  • http://everythingnew.org Jeff Cook

    Bryan (38). You asked, “How would you handle a situation where you know you have a man or woman (heterosexual) who is actively engaging in extramarital sex, but shows the fruits of the Spirit in other ways?

    Do you have a real example of this? I’d be surprised. Again in my example, “no one” that I have seen come to Christ has changed more than this woman.

    You wrote, “Should we handle homosexuals differently than that?”

    Presently, yes. Perhaps we should reconsider whether sexuality in Romans for example is more about brain chemistry and less about body parts.

  • http://everythingnew.org Jeff Cook

    Lexcro (39). You wrote, “How do you know that the Lord is NOT challenging these women to turn from their lesbianism?”

    They say so. But have changed in other ways out of prompting.

    You asked, “Does an unwillingness to repent in one area of life mean that the Lord isn’t doing ANYTHING in any other area of our lives? Surely not. Can a Christian slum-lord repent of injustice towards his tenants while he still refuses the urging of the Spirit to treat his wife and kids better? Yep. Can a Christian find Spirit-empowered victory over gluttony only to remain enslaved to covetousness and envy? Yep. In both of these instances, sanctification in one area of life doesn’t give us a pass in another. The scales don’t balance out.”

    True. But I find it remarkable that their sexuality isn’t addressed at *especially* when it seems to tops on many Christians “sins” lists.

  • A seminary student

    The article and comments really provide some great food for thought (as well as some junk food that needs to be tossed out).

    I especially like Kristin #19 comments and Hydroxonium #35. Thank you both.

    I do believe that practicing homosexuality is a sin but being homosexual is not. By that I mean that because of original sin and the “sins of our fathers” we are born with certain proclivities to sin (consider alcoholism or other addictive behaviors or child abuse, gambling additions etc). These proclivities weigh on us and tempt us more than others and yet they are not sin until we embrace them and walk in them as our own.

    That being said, I also do believe that a homosexual can be a Christian. I mean I am a Christian and I have sin in my life, right? Through the process of sanctification God is working all my sins out of me as my spirit cooperates with the Holy Spirit. I won’t be complete until I share eternity with my Lord.

    Another thought is this; If when we became born again God were to show us all of our sin that He planned to clean up in our lives…we would just drop dead at that instant. TOO overwhelming to contemplate all that sin. I believe the Holy Spirit convicts us of the sins they HE wants to work with us on. The Holy Spirit determines the “order” of the sins to be addressed. For me it may be gossip, for you lying for someone else lust….or homosexuality. Doesn’t that stand to reason? Why do we assume an “Ordo santifico” that has not been spelled out in scripture? We are cleansed of all of our sin but our continuance of sin needs a continuance of repenting and an openness of our spirit to route out other sins that must be dealt with. It’s a process, not a one time event.

    So here is the struggles I am having; First, Is homosexuality a sin or is it NOT a sin.? If it is not, no conversation needed.

    Second, IF IT IS A SIN (which I do think that it is); ***KEY POINT *** How do we love and testify about the redemption of Christ to and with our brothers and sisters that are living in/with or struggling in /with this sin while still giving space and time for the Holy Spirit to work the sanctification needed to be free from this sin if….

    1. We won’t allow them amongst us at all because they are sinners?
    OR
    2. We don’t speak of homosexuality as a sin therefore demonstrating no need for repentance or transformation?

    How do we show the grace extended to all those who trust in Christ for redemption of sin without compromising or explaining away what God has already said about how we should live as people called by His name?

    Thank you @Jeff Cook and all for you who have posted for addressing these hard questions. I appreciate the dialogue.

    God is always good! Amen.

  • carla

    Lexcro (39). You wrote: “And I applaud you for the kind of patience that you and your church are exercised towards these two women.”

    I think you are completely misinterpreting what Jeff was saying. My reading of Jeff’s words was that these women are full participants in their church community, and that this is good and transformative thing for him and others. I don’t read that the community is exercising “patience” toward these women waiting for them to give up their sexuality, nor do I think that is a healthy, Christian way to interact with others. Your comment implies that the community has an agenda for these women that the church is patiently working on. I believe that such an approach wholly undermines the nature of community and is unfair to everyone involved.

  • http://alastairadversaria.wordpress.com/ Alastair

    It might be helpful to compare such a case to the innumerable examples of slave-owners in the past who were marvellously converted and underwent huge life-changes. There may have been considerable Christian love displayed in their treatment of their slaves. They may have prayed for them, shared the gospel with them, and shown them many forms of kindness. For many in this position, the institution of race slavery was natural and wasn’t questioned. Those who did challenge it were considered extremists.

    Such a situation continued for many years, perhaps suggesting, according to the logic above, that God’s priorities lie elsewhere and that slavery just isn’t that big a deal. A number of revivals occurred in contexts of widespread slave-ownership, without changing the underlying situation. Many experienced remarkable conversions without being convicted of the sinfulness of race slavery.

    My point is that there are forms of devastating cultural blindness regarding certain sins and God doesn’t typically remove this instantaneously. Our cultural sins may well be especially economic and sexual. It is not as though we are without witness from both the Christian tradition, Scripture, the non-Western Church, and many churches within the West on these matters. However, many are convinced that we are the most enlightened society to have lived on these matters, so won’t attend to such voices.

  • http://everythingnew.org Jeff Cook

    Larry (68). Brilliant.

  • http://everythingnew.org Jeff Cook

    Mike B (60). You wrote, “Let’s ask it a different way – why is it that many sinning folk are redeemed and becoming sanctified and apparently not every sinful desire is being challenged by the Spirit?”

    True enough, but my claim is that if gay sex was as outrageous as most Christians make it–clearly it would be God’s primary target. And its apparently not.

    You wrote, “As to the Gentile inclusion as an example, keep in mind Peter received a prophetic dream and saw the HS poured on the initial converts with the “sign gifts”. That is a bit different from the flesh/Spirit struggles we all have after conversion.”

    I am pointing to a miracle. A transformed life. Far more impressive than a dream, ya?

    You wrote, “The expectation that some sin or desire should have been removed and was not should not be assumed to be an endorsement of that behavior or desire. While I don’t know anyone, I am sure examples of those who struggled with gay desires before being saved and now no longer do would also make this type of argumentation less persuasive.”

    Tony Campolo has done interesting work on this with gay men who convert and enter same sex relationships. His work suggests that in their fantasy life their desires remain for other males.

    Peace.

  • A seminary student

    Jeff Cook (79) You said ” but my claim is that if gay sex was as outrageous as most Christians make it–clearly it would be God’s primary target.”

    We know that all sin is the same to God. (we do agree on that, right?) There is not small sin or “outrageous” sin. It only takes one sin to condemn us completely. Just as the one “work” of Christ is able to save us completely. Therefore the purpose of my post (#75) was to say just to that point… I know that I have sin and that it “weighs” the same as the sin of the homosexual. Therefore how do we respond in love to every sinner IN the sin but also in the process of sanctification.

    My 2nd point was to address the issue of “God’s primary target.” My point is that God, Himself, determines this target because He able to look into our hearts and untangle the knots of sin that exist there.

    Thanks,

  • JPete79

    Just a quick history of myself before going into detail. I grew up Catholic and switched over to an Evangelical Free Church at 14 when my mother left the Catholic Church. Though I went to a Youth Group sporadically throughout high-school, I stopped attending altogether when I left for college. After a few years, I started attending a different Evangelical Church that had a wonderful pastor and teacher. I ended up going overseas as a missionary for two years and returning. In my walk, I started Catholic and then moved into the extremely conservative camp. I believed in Biblical inerrancy and a literal translation of Scripture.

    In the last 5 or 6 years, I have been finding myself completely deconstructing and reconstructing my faith in new ways. Much of this is credited to Peter Enns’ “Inspiration and Incarnation” which showed me there are more than one way to read Scripture and that more should be taken into account than what is written on a page.

    What is interesting to me is this post is followed by a post about women in leadership (with a John Piper opinion attached). In that post, many people talk about how the verses in Timothy that are written should be taken into the context of the day. Have we considered that the verses from Romans and Corinthians have nothing to do with “homosexuality” but may mean something else or more? In Romans, the verses used against homosexuality may actually be verses more inclined to be speaking against idolatry. In Corinthians, the verses used to speak against homosexuality may have more have to do with slavery and prostitution. Perhaps instead of coming down on two homosexual men or women who want a monogamous relationship Christians should be fighting against the sex-slave trade and child pornography rings that ruin society and people. Maybe that is a more proper reading of Corinthians in modern light.

    I am not saying that my view is right, I am simply saying that there maybe more angles to think about this. Many are quick to say that a very straightforward verse about women not teaching and remaining silent mean something different than an obvious meaning, perhaps the verses on homosexuality could be seen in the same light. After all, why should we be able to pick and choose when something is an “eternal” truth and when something is a “contextual” truth?

    Those are just some random thoughts and I would love to hear some other opinions on this subject.

  • http://everythingnew.org Jeff Cook

    Alastair (77). Good points. You wrote, “[Slavery in the 1st century] continued for many years, perhaps suggesting, according to the logic above, that God’s priorities lie elsewhere and that slavery just isn’t that big a deal. A number of revivals occurred in contexts of widespread slave-ownership, without changing the underlying situation. Many experienced remarkable conversions without being convicted of the sinfulness of race slavery.”

    True enough. Philosophically, I do not need to prove that *all* sins experienced by converts are immediately addressed by the Spirit. But certainly the most egregious are. American Christians seem to be arguing that gay sex is the most egregious sin of our culture (which seems empirically false given the Spirit’s activity).

    Paul is clearly aware that slavery must stop: see Philemon. Notice, Paul can argue against slavery in Philemon in a gospel centric way–Christ has set you free through his own sacrifice, you ought to set your slave free through your own sacrifice. I am not hearing such arguments from those argue against homosexuality in general. The arguments seem to rely heavily on interpretations (easily side stepped) of a handful of biblical passages. I would love to see more thinkers who argue against homosexuality do so in the same way Paul does against Philemon. The argument in Romans clearly understands human sexuality as *just* about body parts, and it is not. (Lots to say there).

    You wrote, “My point is that there are forms of devastating cultural blindness regarding certain sins and God doesn’t typically remove this instantaneously.”

    Like Blogging. Which is an abomination (but God is choosing to remain silent).

    You wrote, “Our cultural sins may well be especially economic and sexual. It is not as though we are without witness from both the Christian tradition, Scripture, the non-Western Church, and many churches within the West on these matters. However, many are convinced that we are the most enlightened society to have lived on these matters, so won’t attend to such voices.”

    I can agree with all of this and still hold that God may be correcting an error.

    Good thoughts! Peace.

  • Kyle J

    @Rick #42

    I absolutely think it’s appropriate to use personal judgment and experience in determining what constitutes sin–particularly when dealing with behavior that has a much different cultural context than scripture addressed directly.

    Sin isn’t just breaking a list of rules. It’s rebelling against God. That will always have larger consequences in someone’s life and the lives of those around them.

    Are women allowed to speak in your church? If so, how do you square this with scripture that seems to speak for itself on the matter?

  • http://caveat1ector.wordpress.com Hydroxonium

    “A seminary student”,

    Glad that #35 made sense to you!

    Also, to address the crowd here: I feel that there is a tendency for Christians to imagine God’s Spirit as working independently (and supernaturally, pephaps) from humans, and even to think up theories about the Holy Spirit that is based on extra-biblical presumptions.

    But realise that just as Spirit can only function together with God’s word (cf. comment #35), it must also function with the cooperation of humans:

    1 Thessalonians 5:19-21
    Common English Bible (CEB)
    19 Don’t suppress the Spirit. 20 Don’t brush off Spirit-inspired messages, 21 but examine everything carefully and hang on to what is good.
    (http://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=1%20thes%205:19-21&version=NRSV;CEB;NET;YLT;KJV)

    There have been many arguments along the lines of “if the Spirit is supposed to work this or that way, and we assume that the Spirit is working, then why has the Spirit not worked the same way with homosexuality …”

    Notwithstanding the fact that such a form of argument seems inherently invalid, perhaps it’s simply because the humans are unconsciously suppressing the Spirit …

  • Luke Wassink

    Scot, thanks for posting this, and Jeff, thanks for writing it. It’s beautiful, wise, and graceful. A true gift.

  • http://deadheroesdontsave.com Mike B

    Jeff Cook #79

    True enough, but my claim is that if gay sex was as outrageous as most Christians make it–clearly it would be God’s primary target. And its apparently not.

    What support do you have for your presupposition that God removes the most outrageous sin after a person comes to Christ?

    I am pointing to a miracle. A transformed life. Far more impressive than a dream, ya?

    I agree that it is amazing when God transforms sinners. I have no doubt these women show amazing grace under tough circumstances. But all the transformed sinners I know (myself included) still struggle with desires and sin.

    The point I was trying to make is that God confirmed the inclusion of Gentiles thru prophetic vision. I don’t think anyone is claiming to be a prophet here regarding gay activity.

  • http://everythingnew.org Jeff Cook

    Seminary Student (80). You wrote, “We know that all sin is the same to God. (we do agree on that, right?) There is not small sin or “outrageous” sin. It only takes one sin to condemn us completely.”

    It seems to me poking out the eyes of a 3 year old for fun is worse than flipping off the guy who cut you off in traffic. Don’t you think? But if all sins are equal, you surely would not know it from how American Christianity works.

    You wrote, “I know that I have sin and that it “weighs” the same as the sin of the homosexual. Therefore how do we respond in love to every sinner IN the sin but also in the process of sanctification.”

    My claim in the post is we have good empirical reasons to reconsider the “sin” status of monogamous gay sex.

    Much love.

  • http://everythingnew.org Jeff Cook

    Mike B (86). You cited my comment, “My claim is that if gay sex was as outrageous as most Christians make it–clearly it would be God’s primary target. And its apparently not.”

    Then you asked, “What support do you have for your presupposition that God removes the most outrageous sin after a person comes to Christ?”

    Not sure its a presupposition. It seems to me that those sins which will kill the soul quickest and separate us from others, are generally God’s first target through the work of the church and the Spirit. That seems to me experiential. But I could be wrong here. Do you have a counter example?

    You wrote, “The point I was trying to make is that God confirmed the inclusion of Gentiles thru prophetic vision. I don’t think anyone is claiming to be a prophet here regarding gay activity.”

    I’m certainly not. Let me re-paste my ending question which is meant to be a conversation starter as a response, “I do not have a clear conviction from Christ on this point, but I wonder if [an offer to change the rules of inclusion] is being offered to the American Church, who so clearly sees the Holy Spirit alive and awake in some of our gay friends. I wonder if empirically we might make the same move as the first Christians who disregarded the many verses on circumcision and food laws, disregarded traditional mores, and embraced the present activity of God’s Spirit in their midst as authoritative.”

  • http://caveat1ector.wordpress.com Hydroxonium

    Jeff Cook,

    You said: “I do not have a clear conviction from Christ on this point, but I wonder if [an offer to change the rules of inclusion] is being offered to the American Church, who so clearly sees the Holy Spirit alive and awake in some of our gay friends. …”

    I find that the “Holy Spirit” argument is ineffective, because it cuts both ways. I can easily counter that “the American Church also clearly sees the Holy Spirit alive and awake in many of our friends who believe that homosexual acts are immoral.” Why then, has the Holy Spirit worked on other sins, but not the sin of “condemning homosexual acts”? I hope this shows that the “Holy Spirit” argument can be used on all sides of the debate, and it doesn’t really work at all.

    The same type of “Holy Spirit” argument has been used to support all kinds of controversial beliefs that are not explicitly stated by God’s word. It’s a sort of slippery slope that has lead generations of Christians to condemn each other as heretics simply because of differences in “Holy Spirit revealed” dogmas.

  • Mark

    Jeff (author): you write: “She is a radically different person and her transformation was unmistakably the work of God’s Spirit. But apparently the Holy Spirit is not interested in transforming her sexuality yet, and I find that worthy of note. Why would God refrain?”

    My response: God gave us His word, which is very clear on the matter of homosexuality. To not see that, I think people have to want not to see that. (Cf. Robert Gagnon’s works.) It’s utterly unlike the issue w/ Gentiles, where Jesus explicitly had told the disciples to go into all the world, before sending the Spirit to the Gentiles. He’d approved this in advance.

    In this case, He’s forbidden it in advance, in the OT and the NT. If we believe God is speaking in Scripture, and if we care what He feels (more than what people feel), then we need to take what He said seriously.

    Doesn’t mean we can’t learn from lesbians and everyone else! But you ask, “Why would God refrain” from addressing their sexuality. Who said He refrained? Why do you assume He’s not challenging them (in their hearts) — just because they haven’t done anything? Maybe He challenges it every day, but because your church is silent on this matter and because your church is unwilling to uphold what He already said, maybe for this reason they don’t discern what God is doing in their hearts.

    It’s seems a leap to make all the assumptions you make. God isn’t refraining. He’s speaking: to you, to the church. He’s saying, Love them, be with them, walk with them, and don’t hold back what He says about the matter. (He’s always expecting us to stand on and for His Word.)

    I’m not saying that’s easy. I’m not saying I’d know how to go about this. But I do know that God values someone who trembles at His word.

    And I deeply respect your respect for them and your taking them seriously, and your desire to serve them and to learn from them. Those are all very laudable. We should all follow your example there.

    Still, a better question is: why is your church refraining?

  • Grant

    I realize that most of you who “call sin what it is” feel like you’re defending what is clearly in Scripture, but my prediction is that 75% or more of you will change your minds within the next 30 years. My next prediction is that once you have changed your minds, you will look back on your previous position as bigotry akin to that of arguing in favor of slavery. Just a guess…

  • Rick

    Kyle J #83-

    Thanks for the response. You wrote:
    “I absolutely think it’s appropriate to use personal judgment and experience in determining what constitutes sin–particularly when dealing with behavior that has a much different cultural context than scripture addressed directly…Are women allowed to speak in your church? If so, how do you square this with scripture that seems to speak for itself on the matter?”

    Because I don’t see this issue as a cultural issue. Paul’s arguments are based on a creation-order standpoint.
    As Scot wrote in a series he once did on the topic,

    “Romans 1 is about the argument from “nature” or “order.” The other two Pauline texts are about same-sex acts, but it is not entirely clear what that context might be. Running through these, however, is the creational argument that God made humans into male and female, and that is God’s order.”

    I highly recommend reading it (if you did not see it when it was written). Here is the summary post from the series:

    http://www.patheos.com/blogs/jesuscreed/2006/02/14/jesus-and-homosexuality-the-end/

  • Rick

    Grant #91-

    One would have to make their case from Scripture in order to change those views. If one could do that, then I would think your stats may be right.

    In regards to the slavery comparison, I will quote Ben Witherington:

    “The analogy with slavery doesn’t work. In the first place it is not endorsed in the OT. Was it practiced —yes. But Hebrews above all new the hideous nature of slavery and were warning to ‘remember when you were slaves in Egypt….’ In the NT slavery is indeed subverted. Paul in Philemon not merely calls for the setting free of Onesimus, he reminds Philemon— that he is and should be viewed as ‘no longer a slave, but more than a slave, a brother in Christ’”

  • JPete79

    Most people that have posted have concluded that homosexuality is a sin in Scripture. They say it is crystal clear. How many of the same people have stated that women should be in leadership? A reading of the New Testament letters makes this look pretty obvious that women shouldn’t be involved in leadership whether one reads from Corinthians or Timothy. I could easily say that one has to perform some “hermeneutical gymnastics” in order to support women in leadership roles.

    I know this is not a post about women in ministry, however; that is the one area that completely changed how I viewed Scripture. I turned away from the Biblical inerrancy model where Scripture can be read as a timeless document with eternal truths that says exactly what it means and can be translated through itself. I began seeing the importance of understanding culture and context and using that to gain deeper meaning. What I see now and how I see Scripture is that instead of an eternal timeless truth, I see a deep book that shows us how to use Christ and Scripture to reach into our communities and reveal God to the world. Instead of a step-by-step manual on how to live every aspect of life, it is more of a guidebook on how to involve God, Christ and love into everyday decisions.

    First, I will look thoroughly at the Old Testament verses that speak about homosexuality. Sodom and Gamorrah was hardly punished simply because they were practicing homosexuals. They were a city that was attempting to rape guests. In a society where hospitality is revered, it was not homosexuality that wiped them out but rape and evil.

    If we are to look at Leviticus, there are multiple verses there that speak against homosexuality. However, if we look deeply at these verses and all between them, we run into a huge problem. How can we say that homosexuality is wrong based on the law? Then we must also make sure that those of us who are married do not sleep with our wives when it is her time of the month. We must make sure to not wear suits, shirts, pants and jeans that are mixed fibers. We must make sure to completely refrain from doing any activity on the Sabbath (which is NOT Sunday). Also, if we do any of these things, we must be executed or cut off from the community. How do we pick and choose which of these verses are valid today? Tradition has taught us that there are three types of laws and that only the moral/ethical apply today. But isn’t a breaking of any of these laws the same in the eyes of God? Perhaps the Law was written as a code of conduct pertaining to a specific people in a specific time for a specific cause.

    Why would there be a big deal against homosexuality in that time? It could be numerous reasons, it could be because it was an aspect of pagan sacrificial worship or it could be because it was opposed to God’s commandment to Adam and Eve which was multiply. Either way, the reasons would be slightly different than today (and anyone who says homosexuals shouldn’t marry because they can’t procreate should also say that is the meaning of marriage and those who cannot have children and those who choose not to should not be married as well).

    Now with that said, turning to the New Testament, we can see again there are verses used to oppose homosexuality. First is Jesus’ words in Matthew 19. To me, while Jesus cites the example of Adam and Eve, He is also answering a specific question about divorce. It is complete irony that many Christians use this verse to support the “sacred vows of marriage” as this verse is the same that abrogates divorce for all reasons with exception to sexual immorality. Would we say that a woman should divorce a physically abusive husband? Not according to what Jesus is writing here! Remember also what I wrote about context and culture. Jesus is affirming a male/female marriage as there was no other type of marriage in that culture and time!

    Next we can see Paul in Romans talking about homosexuality as God gave men and women over to their lusts after they turned away from Him and gave into idolatry. This is a passage that is talking about the overarching sinfulness and wickedness of man for choosing idolatry and self-service over Him. This brings a point of contradiction to what Jeff says. If there are practicing homosexuals in his community, who are indeed Spirit-driven, how/why would God continue letting them practice as Romans says God gives them over to their passions for trading worship of Him over to idols or self? I think the answer is because this is a new phenomena that history hasn’t had to approach before as homosexuality has always been behavior before identity. The idea of homosexuality in Roman time was that it was an unnatural act between men and not a caring, nurturing relationship that was a natural attraction for a person. Again, could it be Paul was speaking in a specific context?

    The last verse I am going to speak about before concluding has to do with Corinthians. We have heard that Corinthians 5 should be used, however; this is a chapter that is specifically speaking about a grotesque relationship that has to do with adultery and incest. The list on Corinthians 6 that shows who will not inherit Heaven is actually the verse I wish to speak about. It talks about the sexually immoral, the adulterers, the fornicators, the effeminate and the homosexuals. Here is a problem. The Greek is highly different as the eyes reading these verses in that culture and context are much different than those now. In fact, the term homosexual is a relatively new term so applying it to an ancient text is extremely dangerous.

    The Greek terms that are translated and interpreted almost all have to do with prostitution. Whether it be a person who sells another into prostitution, a prostitute himself/herself, someone who has sex with a prostitute. In this list, it could be speaking about very specific sexual actions which we have since decided should be viewed broadly and translated with words that didn’t even exist until the last few hundred years. Perhaps instead of broad sexuality we should be specific and apply this to the sex-slave trade that is an abomination in our world.

    The idea of same-sex marriage really isn’t that exclusive to our culture. However; in the sense of a monogamous relationship between two consenting adults; it is. Research has come a long way in the area of homosexuality in the last 30 or 40 years. In fact, 10 years ago, I myself continually said that people, “fool themselves and choose to be gay.” After meeting many gay friends, I have learned that this is not the case. After seeing children of friends grow up gay, this is definitely not the case.

    Marriage was defined by God in the Garden as between a man and a woman. Could this be because it was a mythology (non-literal truth similar to a parable) that existed to show how man populated the world and how Israel came to be. Does this mean marriage today can be between two loving men or two loving women as long as they remain committed in their vows? I would even go so far as perhaps the Church can learn MORE from their commitment because they will take it much more seriously with the amount they had to fight for their marriage! Perhaps they won’t take it for granted like many today do (in and out of our Churches).

    Could a gay couple live as a monogamous pair exhorting one another in godliness and Christlikeness? Could a gay couple love others and love God just like any other person? Could they live out the message of the Gospel by giving to the poor, caring for the widows/orphans, feeding the hungry and healing the sick? Could they be an example to the world in how to live?

    I do think this is a moment in history that the Church needs to really reflect on. Is it possible that God is speaking to us as He did to Peter in his vision? Is God telling us that perhaps, just as it is acceptable to eat meat sacrificed to idols it is acceptable for a homosexual to marry (if their conscience is clean on the matter)?

    These are just a few thoughts on the matter.

  • Rick

    Larry #66-

    “The evidence is overwhelming that treating homosexual conduct as if it were sin has produced bad fruit. The doctrine cannot be a good tree if it produces bad fruit.”

    The fact that many have handled the issue poorly does not mean it is a doctrine of bad fruit. For example, the Great Commission should be considered bad fruit since so many used the sword as a means of converting populations.

  • Kyle J

    @Rick #92

    That’s a good piece. It emphasizes how delicate the interpretation of scripture should be on this issue. (“Please read that carefully: the Bible does not “directly” address same-sex oriented people who are committed to fidelity.”) That seems like exactly the kind of issue in which personal experience should–and inevitably *will*–play a role in making moral judgments.

  • http://gatherthesparks.blogspot.com Yahnatan

    (Looks like the first time I posted this I messed up the italics. Trying again in hopes that the moderator will delete the old one. Makes you wish for a “Preview” button…)

    For those particularly interested in further consideration of Jeff’s reading of Acts 15 at the end (the early church’s decision to welcome Gentiles) and his proposed analogy to gay Christians, I recommend Jon C. Olson’s paper in the Journal of Religious Ethics which examines this analogy through the radical new perspective on Paul (i.e. Paul as a Torah-observant Jewish apostle to the Gentiles). It is called “The Jerusalem Decree, Paul, and the Gentile Analogy to Homosexual Persons” and may be worth consideration. Here’s the abstract (from http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1467-9795.2012.00526.x/abstract):

    Revisionists and traditionalists appeal to Acts 15, welcoming the Gentiles, for analogies directing the church’s response to homosexual persons. John Perry has analyzed the major positions. He faults revisionists for inadequate attention to the Jerusalem Decree and faults one traditionalist for using the Decree literally rather than through analogy. I argue that analogical use of the Decree must supplement rather than displace the plain sense. The Decree has been neglected due to assumptions that Paul opposed it, that it expired, or because Gentiles wanted non-kosher meat. I argue that Paul continued to observe the Torah and supported the Decree, that it has not expired, and that Gentile desire for non-kosher meat is not a firm obstacle. Affirming the plain sense of the Decree, I develop the analogy from Acts 15 to homosexual persons.

  • http://everythingnew.org Jeff Cook

    Hydro (89). You wrote, “I find that the “Holy Spirit” argument is ineffective, because it cuts both ways. I can easily counter that “the American Church also clearly sees the Holy Spirit alive and awake in many of our friends who believe that homosexual acts are immoral.”

    That may be true. But what does that prove? My argument is displaying an anomaly for contemporary biblical wisdom on this matter that needs to be wrestled with — and my argument employees the rational used in the most important decision of the early church. Do you think they the early church ought to have set aside such arguments?

  • Alan K

    Jeff #87,

    “My claim in the post is we have good empirical reasons to reconsider the “sin” status of monogamous gay sex.”

    I’m curious to hear in what manner you believe revelation takes place. This has been a very good post and a good thread, but you’ve said a couple of things like the quote I’ve included that suggests we can begin with phenomena and then move to divine intent. This matter was at the crux of the conversations at Nicea. Arius denied the eternal sonship of Jesus Christ because he understood the fatherhood of God in light of his own and the world’s experience of it, that begatting required beginning. Athanasius opposed Arius on the grounds that to try and understand heaven in light of the world is mythology, and that the church does not do mythology but theology instead.

    Do you not think it would be better to explore the implications of Galatians 3:28 where Paul says “neither male and female” and to see if the revelation of Jesus Christ fundamentally changes how we are to understand humanity as described in the creation narratives? It seems that the whole conversation would be much more christological and there would be a shared space everyone could trust because the primary witness remains the Word of God.

  • http://everythingnew.org Jeff Cook

    Yahnatan (98). This looks interesting. I could not open the article, just the abstract, so I can;t respond to the argument. It seems to prescribe a hermeneutic, and of course this will push the question, why I should hold that hermeneutic. Why think analogy superior. Do you have thoughts there?

  • Bryan

    Jeff (75). You asked, Do you have a real example of this? I’d be surprised. Again in my example, “no one” that I have seen come to Christ has changed more than this woman.
    ————————————————-

    Why would you doubt such a thing just because it involves heteros? I’ve known people that did get involved sexually with their girlfriends for instance, or were living together with a girlfriend or boyfriend when they came to Christ and it took a while for them to realize that the sexual activity in their relationship needed to stop until/unless they got married and that it would at least be best to move out and no longer share the same bed.

    Similarly, I knew a situation where a man had an affair in a church that I’m part of and wouldn’t let go of the relationship. At some point the elders confronted him when it became known and did tell him until he repented and returned to his wife (he did not have biblical grounds for divorce under even more lenient interpretations), he could no longer receive communion. It actually got much worse than that after, but the point is, it seems like there is a time to confront sin even if in other ways the person in question seems to evidence fruits of the Spirit.

    I’m not sure if you’re proposing to treat active homosexuals differently, but if you are I’m struggling to understand why they would get a pass on this that a heterosexual wouldn’t.

    Jeff (75) said: You wrote, “Should we handle homosexuals differently than that?”

    Presently, yes. Perhaps we should reconsider whether sexuality in Romans for example is more about brain chemistry and less about body parts.
    ———————————————————–

    I think that’s oversimplifying it. I don’t see where the Bible condemns brain chemistry for either the heterosexual or the homosexual. Aside from allowing our desires and inclinations to become lust, we being drawn to or tempted toward or merely desiring something isn’t sinful. How or whether we act on those desires is what can become sin. So it matters not whether you’re a hetero fighting a temptation toward lust, pornography, promiscuity or merely trying to exercise chastity before marriage or a homosexual having to fight the first three things while having the extra burden of there being no righteous way to fulfill or pursue the object of your desire. Whether a person is “born that way” or not, both are called to submit to what God has laid down as the proper context for sexual intimacy.

    That doesn’t make it about body parts or brain chemistry. That’s a false dichotomy.

  • http://everythingnew.org Jeff Cook

    Alan K (100). You wrote, “I’m curious to hear in what manner you believe revelation takes place. This has been a very good post and a good thread, but you’ve said a couple of things like the quote I’ve included that suggests we can begin with phenomena and then move to divine intent.”

    Counter question and then I’ll answer yours. How do you select your hermeneutical position, your glasses, your philosophy for reading the text–from the text itself or by other means?

    You wrote, “This matter was at the crux of the conversations at Nicea. Arius denied the eternal sonship of Jesus Christ because he understood the fatherhood of God in light of his own and the world’s experience of it, that begatting required beginning. Athanasius opposed Arius on the grounds that to try and understand heaven in light of the world is mythology, and that the church does not do mythology but theology instead.”

    Would you then reject all uses of “the world” in displaying who God is? It seems you would need to get rid of almost all the parables and most of Paul’s analogies. The Bible writers are seldom Cartesian Rationalists. They seem to value highly the created world and what it communicates. Romans 1–ironically–comes to mind.

    You wrote, “Do you not think it would be better to explore the implications of Galatians 3:28 where Paul says “neither male and female” and to see if the revelation of Jesus Christ fundamentally changes how we are to understand humanity as described in the creation narratives? It seems that the whole conversation would be much more christological and there would be a shared space everyone could trust because the primary witness remains the Word of God.”

    That could be another argument for sure. I’ll let you make it. It seems a road worthy of pursuit.

  • Rick

    Kyle J #96-

    Thanks for the response.

    Most of those who oppose such relations are looking for biblical reasons.

    As Scot said in a comment in that series:

    “I begin with the Bible because it is epistemic for me. As a Protestant, as a classically-orthodox Christian, I begin all theologizing and ethical discussions with “what does the Bible say?” And, yes, I agree with you: that can in fact prejudge the discussion, but it need not.
    Culture shapes my own views in this way: I think we have learned lots about same-sex orientation…I believe the argument from experience is always secondary to other arguments in the Bible. So, I do not think we can say “God made me this way” because the only “God” we are talking about is the biblical God, and that God spoke in the Bible, and that God speaks of “order” as male and female.”

  • Bryan

    Jeff, I’m just now reading your note on reconsidering whether monogamous gay sex should be considered sinful. That’s disappointing. I don’t think your original post gives good empirical reasons for that at all. I think it gives good reasons to reconsider how we deal with people in the process of surrendering all realms of their lives to Christ’s lordship. You act as if this lesbian couple is some unique flower when it comes to exhibiting fruit of the Spirit and Christlikeness while persisting in sinful habits in other areas. I just know from my own life and those around me that’s just not the case.

    I mentioned an example in my previous post. I’ll also mention that I have a dear friend who is truly one of the kindest people I know. In some ways she responds to life in far more “Jesus-like” ways than I do or even most other people I know. But until recently, she was living with her boyfriend and hadn’t been to church in over a year. But she loved Jesus and we had some great deep talks about God and the Bible. Point being…we can see the Spirit moving in someone and transforming them in myriad ways. And sometimes there will still be areas of their lives that they’ve yet to either realize they need to surrender to Him or that they are struggling to surrender or resisting to some degree or another. That doesn’t negate the good things that God is doing and the ways in which He has radically transformed them. But neither does it mean that because of all those good fruits and progressing in Christlikeness that those areas where they are still living in unscriptural ways that those things don’t matter or should no longer be considered sinful.

  • http://everythingnew.org Jeff Cook

    Bryan (102). I think you’re misunderstanding both of my arguments. Much love.

  • phil_style

    @Rick,
    we are talking about is the biblical God, and that God spoke in the Bible, and that God speaks of “order” as male and female.”

    This “Biblical God” seems to have overlooked (in his orderings) that fact that many people are not born with only one of these two genders.

  • Bryan

    Then you might need to explain it in more detail for me.

    I’ll also add this lest anyone suspect differently: I don’t say any of this because I don’t like gay people, because I don’t have any gay friends or relatives (and thus haven’t talked deeply with them to understand how they feel or listened to their experiences) or because I enjoy deciding “who’s in and who’s out.” It would be much easier to just go with the cultural tide on this one and just let it be. I don’t enjoy pointing out sin to anyone. That sucks, frankly speaking. I’d much rather not have any of this source of tension in relationships with friends of mine who are gay. I love them so much and love being around them. And overall we have a great time together. But there is this thing in the background…this third rail so to speak that is there and we all know it. I’d much rather dispense with it.

    But I can’t. Not in good conscience. I actually believe that doing so would be the most unloving thing I could do.

  • Adam

    @Jeff,

    After reading through a lot of your comments you seem to be sticking to a theme of what “American Christianity” is and how this single perspective approaches homosexuality. For example:
    “True enough, but my claim is that if gay sex was as outrageous as most Christians make it–clearly it would be God’s primary target. And its apparently not.”

    First of all, we can’t say this represents all of Christianity, nor even all of American Christianity. Your example here, Rob Bell from a week or so ago, and I have many friends who welcome homosexuals to the church. So, I think we need to be more specific about who holds this view as ‘outrageous’.

    Second, there’s a feeling here of a kind of bait and switch. You haven’t said it specifically, but it seems to be lurking there that if someone says “Yes, gay sex is not God’s top priority” then we jump directly to “God intends gay sex and approves”. The first item, I’m all for. The second is still open.

    And here is an area where people honestly questioning get clobbered. With my own study in history, neurobiology, psychology, and my own experience I can honestly say “I’m just born this way” is too simple a statement and not entirely correct. The 2 women you talk about and others have to endure a lot, and surviving in the environment that we’ve created means developing some defense mechanisms. Those defense mechanisms, though valid, make it difficult for me to speak honestly about my experiences and learning. If I disagree with a homosexuals position I can’t get 2 sentences in without being accused of “not understanding”. This is also not a purely homosexual matter. Cognitive biases are the core of human experience and if you challenge the biases, the challenger is always accused of misunderstanding.

    So, I think a lot of people are on board that homosexuality is not as big a problem as we’ve made it out to be, but that isn’t an all out pass that everything is just fine. I think a lot of people are using this to reflect on how we handle sin. Instead of scapegoating the homosexuals, people are trying to recognize that they themselves are just as guilty in other ways and now trying to treat others as they want to be treated, while at the same time stop walking down the path of Pride or Sloth or even gay sex.

  • EricW

    44 Joe Canner says:
    Apr 3, 2013 @ 12:20 at 12:20 PM

    Bryan #38, Hope you don’t mind me butting in here…

    I would say that there is one very significant difference between the scenario you described and the one Jeff described. As far as the church is concerned, the heterosexual couple has a very simple way to solve their problem: get married. In contrast, a same-sex couple has a quite different and much more difficult way: abstain. So, regardless of whether one believes that same-sex relationships are sinful or not, considerably more grace, patience, and tolerance are required in the latter case than in the former.

    Although no one has responded to my comment at 63. (“A thought: I think if you permit couples in heterosexual marriages to engage in non-coital genital activity that does not each and every time conclude with coital genital intercourse, you have weakened any arguments you might have or make against sexual activity in loving committed same-sex unions unless you can otherwise explain or argue why a man can’t do to or with his male partner what a woman can do to or with her male spouse, or why a woman can’t do to or with her female partner what a man can do to or with his female spouse.”), I’m going to throw out another similar thought(s) on this anyway, hoping someone might respond to or agree or disagree with it:

    Is non-procreative sex between a married heterosexual couple okay? I assume most persons here would say “yes.”

    Many heterosexual married couples engage in sexual activity with no intention of procreation, and sometimes with no in-vaginal-ejaculation genital intercourse – i.e., with no POSSIBILITY of procreation. The things that prompt them to do that are the exact same things that prompt gay persons to engage in sexual activity with those to whom they are attracted, as gay persons have the exact same unconscious and unprompted feelings of arousal and sexual longing and urging toward persons of the same sex that heterosexual persons have toward members of the opposite sex, and studies seem to show that trying to reprogram or redirect these unconscious arousals and urgings to be in response to opposite-sex persons is rarely if ever successful.

    So when the reason for “male and female” – i.e., procreation – is not a factor in the sexual activity, why is what’s okay for heterosexual couples to do not okay for homosexual couples to do?

    When a heterosexual couple has a sexual or physical impairment that prevents normal intercourse by one or both partners, do we not permit and even encourage them to find accommodations for such impairments so that they can engage in marital sexual activity for the non-procreative benefits of love, fulfillment, closeness, bonding, pleasing the other person, etc., that such activity achieves? If same-sex attraction is a disability (which many consider it to be – or perhaps “perversion” or “less than the ideal” is the term they would use) – i.e., the lack of the “normal” ability to be sexually aroused by or to sexually bond with a person of the opposite sex – should we not have the same compassion and attitude, especially since the “accommodation” in such cases is so easy – i.e., simply let them so relate to and engage with a person of the same sex.

    If procreation is not the determining factor or sine qua non for permissible or blessed sexual activities between heterosexuals, then what is wrong with homosexuals engaging in sexual activities with same-sex partners?

  • Rick

    Phil #106-

    There still is a sense of order. Your complaint seems to be against Scripture and Scot’s take on that topic.

  • Kyle J

    @Rick #103

    That’s not making experience secondary. That’s rejecting it entirely.

    Talk to a gay christian who has lived out this dilemma–or read Justin Lee’s book. You have to completely dismiss their testimony to make your theological construction work. To tell them God didn’t make them the way the way they fully believe they are–often after struggling their entire lives against the idea–is to tell them their entire identities are worthless and they should give up.

    Maybe your interpretation of scripture is the correct path (I obviously don’t think it is), but recognize that it effectively removes a large group of people from any kind of constructive interaction with our faith.

  • Phil Miller

    Eric, #109

    Your comment is sort of related to what I was getting in an earlier comment when I said there is a lack of empathy from many Christians when it comes to this issue. It seems to me that a lot of the Christians who are most outspoken in regards to homosexuality are not themselves celibate. Even if they are single and celibate at the present, there’s a very high probability that they expect to be married one day. So they are not looking ahead at the possibility of a lifetime of celibacy. Yet, in order to live God-honoring lives, that’s we’re telling people who identify as gay to do. Either that or become straight, I suppose. It seems that if celibacy is the message we want to convince people of, than we need to do a much better of job it. Yelling “but the Bible says!” at the top of our lungs is really not working very well.

  • phil_style

    @Rick – “There still is a sense of order”

    I have no idea what this means, or how it is to apply to life. Basing theology on a “sense” of something (even if that sense is attributed to the biblical texts) does not appear to me to be the kind of thing you have been driving at in your comments.

    If, in any case, scripture is intended to be interpreted the way you interpret it, and it is to be applied the way you suggest it should be applied then yes I suppose I have a complaint against scripture, or at least against those who wish to apply it in that manner. If God is one of those who wish to apply it in that manner then I should bring my complaint directly to Him. Fortunately the saints have always brought their complaints against God directly to Him.

  • Chuck

    The problem with this logic, and I speak as one who has lesbians in the family, is that
    it doesn’t recognize that as Paul became the Apostle to the Gentiles, his epistles give
    us, the church, direction on how the Holy Spirit has directed us to live under grace. The
    early church established by the disciples was a Jewish Christian assembly and was still
    struggling with legalism and looking for the imminent establishment of the Kingdom with
    Christ’s return. So, after Paul’s Damascus Road experience and three years in the desert
    with Jesus teaching him, he has given us the guidance for the Body of Christ Gentile, primarily,
    church. It covers sexual immorality, both heterosexual and homosexual, quite thoroughly along with church discipline similar to Mathew 18. So love them, but take care of putting in
    membership or leadership until this issue is resolved.

  • http://deadheroesdontsave.com/ MikeB (@g1antfan)

    Jeff

    If I am following the OP and comments you have made let me know if this accurately captures your intent and argument:

    1) God removes the most outrageous sin after a person comes to Christ
    2) lesbian women in my church have had dramatic transformations in character and attitude after coming to Christ. But they have no convictions that gay activity in a loving relationship is a sin.

    therefore: the church should evaluate this evidence with the result that its stops considering gay activity in a loving relationship a sin.

    As an implication, this arguement seems to affirm that up until now the Bible taught that gay activity in a loving relationship was a sin.

    As additional support you cite the early church wrestling with the inclusion of Gentiles.

    If this mischaraterizes your intent, please correct me where needed.

    The more I think this through, the more I fail to see this as good evidence for what you are claiming. I am sorry but I just don’t see it.

    Assuming I am not too far off base with the overall argument, I would disagree with premise #1. I don’t see that idea articulated in the Bible. I can see that the Holy Spirit transforms us into new creations and empowers us to live the life that Jesus commands. But I also see that we are told to actively take off the old man (flesh, worldly views) and put on the new man. I see that we are going to wrestle with the flesh and its desires and the temptations of the world. I don’t think you (or anyone else) disagree with that. I think we all can look at our own lives and those we know well and say I see the changes God has made but we are still a work in progress.

    Regarding the idea that the “outrageous” desires and sins would be removed – well I just don’t see that in Scripture or experience. I would say believers who are transformed and being transformed still have attractions and desires for others outside of marriage (which lead to lust and adultery) as empirical evidence that suggests premise #1 does not operate as suggested.

    Furthermore, as already cited by someone else – the fact that many transformed believers are convinced that that gay activity in a loving relationship is still a sin suggests we are not evaluating this situation you cite correctly.

    I don’t think that the example of the early church being used as a forerunner to how we should go about working through this change in the rules supports the case you are trying to make. The empirical evidence they used was of a far different nature. First you are talking about a huge transitionary moment in human history as the New Covenant is established. Because of the radical change, we see that Christ affirmed that the change was coming (this blood is the new covenant) and confirmed it through signs, wonders, and miracles (His own and the inital followers) as well as through prophecy. We do not have that magnitude of change occuring in history at this time nor do we have that kind of evidence.

    After the resurrection, Christ walked through the Scriptures with His followers. Among the many things He showed them He likely demonstrated that the OT prophets and writings foretold that Gentiles would be included in God’s plan and that the Mosaic covenant would be replaced with a New Covenant. Something Paul and the writer of Hebrews make clear in their NT writings.

    Paul, Peter, and Barnabas didn’t lack conviction when they went to the Council in Jerusalem, or wonder if the subjective evidence of transformed believers warranted the changes being made. Likely because many transformed believers (including many of the apostles) held different opinions. When they looked at the evidence they had it included the OT Scripture citing that this change was coming, Jesus’ claims during and after His earthly ministry that this change was coming, prophetic visions given to them this change had come, and confirming signs and wonders that gave them total confidence that God had established a New Covenant that included Gentiles.

    I appreciate your desire to work through this with patience and love, but I can’t say that we have ‘good empirical evidence to reconsider the “sin” status of monogamous gay sex.’

    In Christ
    MikeB

  • JPete79

    So, this time I am planning a much shorter post as it seems much of my longer ones go largely ignored. I am looking for opinions and ideas on the following questions:

    First, I wonder for those of us who believe homosexuality is an explicit sin; what verses from the Bible do we use to support that view? Do we consider the words from Romans, Corinthians, Timothy and Revelation to be a sin under a very broad scope of sexual immorality? Do we base it as a sin because the author of Genesis and also Jesus both point to Adam and Eve and creation an example of marriage? What are the Scriptural reasons for considering homosexuality sin?

    In conjunction with the above, do we also view Scripture as literal and translating/interpreting itself thus giving it “eternal truth?” Or do we view it important to understand the principles and ideas of how it used by looking at culture and context? Does it matter that monogamous same-sex relationships were virtually non-existent and wouldn’t have been spoken of in Biblical times? What about the fact that the term “homosexual” is relatively new in its concept and meaning today creating an anachronism when placed in Scripture?

    These are various questions I have an am looking forward to dialogue on them.

  • Alan K

    Jeff #102,

    Thanks for your reply. You wrote: “How do you select your hermeneutical position, your glasses, your philosophy for reading the text–from the text itself or by other means?”

    The same way the church always has: “In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God.” Or, as Karl Barth put it, “The reality of the Word of God in all three of its forms (meaning Jesus Christ [revelation], the testimony of the prophets and apostles [scripture], and proclamation [church witness]) is grounded only in itself. So, too, the knowledge of it by men can consist only in its acknowledgement, and this acknowledgement can become real only through itself and can become intelligible only in terms of itself.”

    You wrote: “Would you then reject all uses of “the world” in displaying who God is? It seems you would need to get rid of almost all the parables and most of Paul’s analogies. The Bible writers are seldom Cartesian Rationalists. They seem to value highly the created world and what it communicates. Romans 1–ironically–comes to mind.”

    Counter question: do you believe that creation and redemption are accomplished in the same act of God? The reason I ask this is because you and I are speaking in different categories. If you think I am arguing for Cartesian Rationalism, or that the bishops at Nicea were Cartesians born out of due time, then we are nowhere near one another. The bishops simply ruled out natural theology as a valid method for knowing God apart from Jesus Christ once Athanasius made it clear that Homer and incarnation are incompatible. The parables remain because they are spoken by Jesus Christ, and not as religious lessons, but as testimony to his identity and task–it is God speaking after all. Paul re-narrates the world as he knows it–his own salvation history as an Israelite–in light of his encounter with the ascended Jesus. His analogies are always analogies of faith, except when they relate to Jesus Christ. Only then are they analogies of being. Nowhere is Paul utilizing foundationalism.

    With regards to Romans 1, I am part of a small but growing minority who believe that Romans 1:18-32 was not written by Paul (which means I don’t believe Paul argues against homosexual relations because they are contrary to nature–it simply isn’t his method anywhere else in the literature to argue a theology from below). Jesus Christ disappears from view in Romans 1:18-3:20 (with the exception of 2:16). Both the traditional reformed reading and the so-called New Perspective on Paul have shown an inability to render a coherent reading of this epistle. If you want to chase this down, Douglas Campbell of Duke has written about it in the most significant book on Paul’s theology and justification in years in “The Deliverance of God,” where he argues that prosopopoeia (speech-in-character) is at work in Romans 1, with Paul arguing back and forth with an opponent. Not without problems but the best suggestion for what is going on in Romans that I’ve ever read.

    Campbell also explores the implications of the Galatians 3:28 passage in his “The Quest for the Apostle Paul.” He argues that a faithful rendering of the passage would be like: “it is impossible to be ‘male and female.’” Eugene Rogers has also entertained this line of thinking in his “Sexuality and the Christian Body,” where he argues the idea that we are “sexed” has been transformed by the revelation of Jesus Christ. I’m not totally on board with them with regards to the implications (there are huge questions of continuity and discontiunity that remain), but their methods are the most sound (theologically speaking) that I’ve come across.

  • Alan K

    JPete79 #116,

    The reason why I have ignored your lengthy posts is because they contribute to an already bad way of having a conversation on these matters–meaning an exegesis contest where each side produces expert witnesses. It’s a very biblicist way of trying to do theology. A better conversation will begin with the question who is God and how does God speak. Then the conversation can then entertain questions regarding what makes marriage real–is marriage a discipline, a covenant, a sacrament, a contract? Is marriage offering or is it gift? Other necessary questions are”what is the human being?”; “what is the place of eros in relation to agape when it comes to the love of God?” “What is redeemed desire?” “What is the telos of humanity and the telos of marriage?” Questions regarding free territory vs. forbidden territory miss the vibe of the New Testament entirely and do nothing for the witness of the church.

  • Phil Miller

    Alan K, #117
    That is a good point concerning Romans 1 and Paul’s use of speech-in-character. If Paul is indeed imitating a Judaizing interlocutor in this passage as Campbell suggests, it totally changes the way that passage relates to this discussion.

  • Rick

    Kyle J #111-

    It is not to remove experience completely (the Wesleyian Quad utilizes it), but it does recognize the Scripture as something experience is to be measured against. Likewise, it keeps in mind that our experience is not totally disconnected from the fallen nature we all have.

    JPete79 #116-

    I do recommend the series Scot did here at Jesus Creed, Jesus and Homosexuality. You may not agree with all of it, but it does breakdown various aspects of the issue.

    Let me just throw out another comment Scot made in that series, that at least touches on your question:

    “…the reason same-sex acts are sinful in Romans 1 is because they are out of order. That is what the “unnatural” argument is all about…I don’t base my argument on Genesis 1 only; I think Romans 1 is the most explicit passage, and that passage is derived from Genesis 1.
    To be sure, the Bible distinguishes between temptation and action, but same-sex orientation (which is a condition, not just a temptation) vs. same-sex act is not quite the same. Though I admit there is something inherent in the latter to the former. I think we need to be careful to say that same-sex orientation is not in and of itself sinful. You and I may be tempted to something, but if we resist it we have not sinned. The same applies. We should avoid using “homosexuality” as an umbrella term for both orientation, lust, and act.”

  • jpete79

    Alan,

    Thank you for the response. I dont know if you saw my background but now I find myself somewhere between evangelical and progressive. With that, I do still usually end up going back to Scripture first. Also, I have no problems with discussion and have no issues with disagreement.

    Now how do we dialogue about the questions you mentioned? Is it using Scripture or experience? I guess the reason I used the approach of free vs forbidden was to get an understanding of how and why people interpret Scriptures certain ways. Especially because most often this is the method in which we marginalize homosexuals (intentionally or unintentionally we most often go back to Scripture to make our points).

    I guess the problem I run into is that the questions you want to dialogue about to start are more the questions I want to get to with my friends but cant in this particular discussion because they only see the answers painted black and white in their Bibles.

  • Daniel

    “In the early church, the Jewish Christians became convinced that God desired to save Gentiles through faith in Christ alone, because they saw the Holy Spirit at work in the lives of the Gentiles.”

    The gift of the Spirit was an eschatological event. It was made possible by the resurrection of the Messiah as the climax of history. In this sense, the inclusion of the Gentiles was an unique event. Moreover, it was confirmed by the OT prophets. Look at James’ use of Amos 9.11-12 in Acts 15. Did the OT prophets write anything concerning the inclusion of the homosexuals? What eschatological events (such as the resurrection of the Messiah) have happened which signal the inclusion of homosexuals?

    In my estimation, it’s wrongheaded to use the inclusion of the Gentiles as a paradigm for the church’s embrace of homosexuality.

  • EricW

    I think one has already predispositioned oneself to a response when one refers to or views persons with same-sex attraction as “homosexuals.” Do we primarily refer to ourselves or each other by our eating preferences – omnivores or vegetarians or vegans? Or by the means we get to work – motorists or bicyclists or public transportation commuters? Or by our residences – homeowners or home buyers or renters? Or by our entertainment preferences? Etc. As one author pointed out, why don’t we refer to men and women who like men as androphiles or androsexuals, and men and women who like women as gynecophiles or gynecosexuals? All these classifications are valid ways of grouping people based on the deficient term “lifestyle.”

    Maybe a first step in the church being better is to stop talking about “homosexuals.”

  • EricW

    E.g., I don’t primarily or even significantly view myself as a “heterosexual.” And I certainly don’t live or have a “heterosexual ‘lifestyle’,” whatever that is.

  • Rick

    EricW #123-

    I actually have heard that same point made numerous times about how the same-sex community uses terms to refer to itself (“Gay community”, etc…). People have wondered why so many use such terms to identify themselves.

    I am not debating your point, but rather just to show that it happens on various sides.

  • EricW

    I’ve just finished reading 3 collections of lesbian “coming out” stories, and several of the contributors mentioned their discomfort at feeling pressured to conform to what the lesbian community felt lesbians should act and dress and be like. Group pressure on both sides reduces and stereotypes persons.

  • Adam

    @EricW #123

    I completely agree with that, but also, what do you think it says when someone says “I’m just born this way”? Where I would say we’re all humans with sexual behavior, others would say they only have 1 kind of sexual behavior and it’s who they are. I think this over-identification with sexuality is happening on all fronts.

    If we allow that we’re humans with sexual behavior, what does it mean to respect a person’s particular behavior? Do we have to universally respect all behavior? How do we decide the difference between behaviors to accept and respect and behaviors to discourage and modify?

  • Alan K

    jpete79 #121,

    I just read through my post and hope that it didn’t come across as rude! If it did, I apologize.

    The church has always believed that the full disclosure of God in the world is Jesus Christ. What scripture is has to be understood in relation to him, and hopefully in our worship the dialog concerning the questions I raised is well underway. We don’t gather simply to have the Bible read, but to hear the good news of Jesus Christ proclaimed. It is in this manner that the Bible becomes the Word of God–the faithful proclamation of the witness of the prophets and apostles to Jesus Christ. This fact alone should make us think twice when we use the Bible to fence with one another. The Word is not there for winning sides but for the sake of having its way with us.

    Sometimes action can do more for us than our conversations. How we talk about God and the witness of Scripture changes when we are in places that are dark, poor and lonely–whether it be ourselves or our following Jesus in his mission to those places. Our hearts are necessarily softened and our mouths are shut up by what we feel inside or our eyes see. What I’m saying is that the Scripture gets mediated into real life when it is truly spoken. I am not being a romantic here, but there is no experience-less hearing of the Word of God. To believe otherwise is to deny incarnation. God meets us today, always. I may not agree with what I hear (Jesus says “Blessed are the poor” but it seems the truth is closer to “Blessed are the socially located”), but I cannot step out of my life so I can fully comprehend it. Thank God for the community of faith to encourage me.

    If your conversation with your friends an exercise for self-vindication for those who participate, then I don’t believe the conversation will go anywhere meaningful. But if the goal is to empathize because Jesus has become one of us, then the Scripture can open up a much larger world for us. As Jesus Christ gets larger for us, so does everything else.

  • EricW

    ISTM that Christians have or should have more in common with each other than with non-Christians. I.e., Christians regardless of their sexual attraction should understand themselves to be brothers and sisters of/with each other and not reflexively align/ally heterosexual Christians (including themselves) more with heterosexual non-Christians than with homosexual Christians, nor align/ally homosexual Christians (including themselves) more with homosexual non-Christians than with heterosexual Christians.

  • Lori

    Sin is sin that is why we all need Jesus. Although when you encounter Jesus…you have change your heart and your behavior. Repentence is key for this topic. Repentence: a change of heart which leads to a change in behavior. We need remorse/brokenness over our sin. If we don’t have it then our behavior remains the same.

    Jesus warned us several times: Unless you repent you will all likewise perish. Luke 13:3,5.
    Jesus requires us to be holy, pure, and perfect, which work he does for us by grace, as we carry the inward cross of self-denial, repenting from what he shows us as the sins in our heart, and obeying his commands that we hear him speak to us from Jesus, the word, in our heart.

    As Paul noted, “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners–of whom I am the worst. But for that very reason I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst sinners, Christ Jesus may display his unlimited patience as an example of those who would believe on him and receive eternal life” 1 Tim 1:15

  • http://www.lifewalk.info David Foreman

    Well, I think Mr. Cook is possibly being transformed. For me “the Holy Spirit is not interested in transforming her sexuality YET,” is a big marker that some change in orientation is still, to some degree, expected.
    His talk of seeing “the Holy Spirit alive and awake in some of our gay friends” is very good, but also shows lack of exposure to gatherings of Christians who have long embraced gays and lesbians as, shall we say, spiritual equals.
    Still, it’s good he’s open. It’s good he’s learning. I hope his journey progresses to inclusion that embraces the sexually “other” without ever even thinking in terms of changed orientation.

  • http://gatherthesparks.blogspot.com Yahnatan

    Jeff (#100): good question. I don’t know where you come down on the traditional/new/radical new perspectives on Paul, but Scot has discussed them all before on the blog, so I thought it might be of interest to some readers. Even if you’re personally not convinced by the radical new perspective (or even familiar with it), you might still be interested in the article (actually a series of articles, since Olson’s article is a response to a previous article by Perry, and then Perry had a rejoinder published as well) in a prominent theological journal as a reference for future reflection/writing on the analogy. Since it’s behind a pay wall, unfortunately, our discussion to that end may have have to wait until someone can thoroughly summarize it for us. But to hint along those lines: your claim that “the Bible was clear that all males needed to be circumcised and eating shellfish was a no-no” doesn’t square with a radical perspective reading which understands the Torah itself to only require circumcision (and certain other mitzvot) of Israelites and not of Gentiles. In this reading, the Acts 15 decree affirms the acceptability to God of Gentiles as Gentiles, but it doesn’t overturn Scripture to do so (in fact, the witness of the Spirit, articulated by Peter, is confirmed by the witness of Scripture, articulated by James). Olson’s argues that the analogy to Acts 15 ought not to displace the plain meaning of the decree (which leverages certain requirements on Gentiles vis-a-vis sexuality), and then attempts to apply the analogy in ways which don’t displace this plain meaning.

  • Doug Allen

    Love God; love all others………………………………………………………………………………………………

  • Nishkalank

    I read The article and the comments. I feel the modern trend is ” Freedom to use the body to derive orgasm” is part of faith in modern concept of religion. But using the name of God or Christ seems to be irrelevant. If eating and mating is all for which we are born, then the philosophy is RIGHT.

  • Jeff H

    Dear Friends

    I just wanted to give the perspective of a Christian guy who is gay and lives with my male partner in a Civil Partnership, soon to be called Marriage, here in UK.

    Leaving aside conflicting exegesis… and let’s face it the churches have argued about all kinds of issues and invoked the authority of Scripture for a long long time …. I want to share with you how many GLBT Christians actually live out this stuff.

    For me I seek to love God and love my neighbour as myself …. to follow Jesus as best I can as I and many many others understand that and worship within a community which does not ‘tolerate’ (awful word) but celebrates me and my partner’s commitment.

    I seek to be open to the Spirit bearing fruit in my life …. love, peace. patience etc… I seek to welcome everyone who comes into my own sphere of influence and into my community, without exception or judgement, as Jesus lived and taught. It is not important to me whether they are ‘pure’ or ‘impure’, ‘moral’ or ‘immoral’. God loves them infinitely and that is good enough for me.

    If others want to see my way of life as sinful or immoral then that is fine with me as I am not responsible for the ways they live their Christian faith in their own integrity . They must make their walk with God as best they know how, just as I do.

    Most Christian LGBT folk just get on with their lives and are not really that interested in the biblical to-ing and fro-ing though I do appreciate the importance of that for many and respect it. I find it fascinating that so many straight Christians are interested in my sexuality and who find it all so bothersome. But bless you for what I know is grounded is an expression of caring and wanting what you believe God wants for me.

    My own advice to LGBT Christians is to ‘shake the dust off their feet’, leave churches in which they are unhappy and cannot flourish as full children of God and to find a church community which welcomes and affirms them and in which they can contribute as full equals. But I do respect and stand in admiration of those LGBT folk who feel led to stay put, in spite of emotional pain and distress, as part of their own witness.

    I do not ask anyone to go against their own convictions, which are of little import in my own life either way. Though I am deeply concerned about the suffering of those who find themselves in churches which are less than welcoming. I am especially concerned about young and vulnerable people (Jesus’ ‘little ones’) who have not yet developed the strength to withstand a less than friendly environment. The high rates of suicide in young LGBT people is a great scandal and an indictment of our society. I extend no blame, as the causes are complex and varied but I would hope all Christians would work to bring these acts of despair to an end.

    Hold fast to the truth as you and your communities see it but all of us, including myself , need to remember that we may be mistaken. If all of us try to ‘fulfil the law of love’ and listen careful to the promptings of love and truth in our hearts then somehow with God;s grace I have faith that we will get there, eventually.

    In friendship

    Jeff :)

  • Joel Wheeler

    Interesting thread. This gay former Christian watches such things with interest.

    A minor quibble, however, with the OP.

    Mr. Cook makes this observation: “The common understanding of conversion in the first century was that one needed to physically change—to be circumcised and give up certain foods in order to be acceptable to God. But the early church shifted its perception of this entire group of people, not because of the Bible (the Bible was clear that all males needed to be circumcised and eating shellfish was a no-no), but because they saw the work of the Holy Spirit bursting forth from the lives of these Gentile believers.”

    I think it’s important to remember that “the Bible” as a scriptural cannon did not exist in the first century. Or second, for that matter. I’m pretty sure that, given the reference to circumcision, the author means the Septuagint in this context.

    Whatever the reasons for the early Church’s shift in attitude toward Gentiles—scriptural canon or bursting Spirit—it’s incumbent upon us to recall that there was just as much disagreement then as there is now, among believers, around how to proceed and attract new converts. Many would-be Gospels and sects were eventually deemed heretical, and Orthodoxy was eventually born in the form of the HRCC.

    IMHO, in the end, it all comes down to market share. The Church that adapts is the Church that survives and grows. The Church that hunkers down and excludes and casts aspersions, convinced of it’s Inerrant Authority, is the Church that calcifies and dies.

  • Holly

    Interestingly, it is the churches which have dropped all boundaries in these matters who are declining numerically. Mainline and progressive churches have steadily lost members as they have superceded scripture and made dramatic cultural adaptations

    Also – Jeff, above – Jesus absolutely did judge people. He also said “Go and sin no more.”

  • Jeff H

    Thanks Holly.

    I suppose that I take my own inspiration as to the relation between judgement and the earthly ministry of Jesus (leaving aside the theological question of God as judge in the life beyond this one) from such gospel passages as

    If anyone hears my words but does not keep them, I do not judge that person. For I did not come to judge the world, but to save the world. ( form John 12 NIV)

    And of course his teaching to his followers

    ”Do not judge, or you too will be judged. 2 For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you. ”(from Matthew 7 NIV)

    What I find interesting and rather challenging is Jesus’ suggestion that the way I relate to others affects the way God relates to me… that the two are intimately intertwined.

    We have the gospel message of loving God with all our heart etc…and our neighbour as ourselves, which all Christians would accept yet as indiciduals and communities still interpret it in different ways. What seems completely clear to me may well seem completely clear to another but we may both interpret it in very different ways.

    If you think that I am in error and feel it is incumbent upon you to correct me then to be authentic that is what you must do! If you believe Jesus judged then go for it….. follow the courage of your convictions and find ways to weave that into following Him! I have no problems with that. That is all any of us can do isn’t it?

    I certainly do not lose hope that all who call themselves Christians can find unity, though when and how remains mysterious. But I take heart from Jesus’ great prayer in Chapter 17 of John’s Gospel

    ”I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, 21 that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. 22 I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one— 23 I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.” (NRSV)

    …brought to complete unity…’ What an astonishing vision!

    Blessings

    Jeff :)

    Blessings

    Jeff

  • John C.Gardner

    Historically, Scripture(at its best) in Genesis 1-3 and Jesus on Marriage between a man and a woman shows the norm for Christians. All of us have sins but(me included of course) we need to be conformed to Christ and have the Holy Spirit abide. The Christian position has been celibacy in singleness while sex is sex is part of marriage. The issue of the Gentiles is similar to that of slavery. Examine the Robert Gagnon treatise on thes issues. I am glad that there has been the good fruits of the Spirit in anyone. I also believe(since I have struggled with my own sins) that when the Bible is clear(in this case Christian Scripture and tradition) that we must all develop habits of Christian virtue and holiness. I do not know why God has not made it easier for me to overcome some of my sins but I assume that is because of my own hard heartedness, original sin and my own sin.

  • http://Pathos Ted Walker

    It is a clear and immutable fact sin is sin. How can one mix light and darkness or oil and water. The homosexual must submit to the will of God. When asked about the issue of homosexuality I simply say the homosexual sin is no greater then the fornicating heterosexual. both are sins. The blow back about homosexuality goes to the issue of how God designed the human anaotomy and his purose for his design. Simply put a homosexual cannot be a practicing homosexual and be a body of Christ. Just like the heteosexual man or woman we CANNOT habitually, intensionally earnestly sin and think God blesses the sin because you attend a church. To be in that state of mind is just spiritual or religeous. That is not based on having a personal relationship with Christ. Please stop watering down the gospel of Bible. None can get to heaven based on his or her good works. No matter hoe compationate a hete or homo sexual is. Sexual sin is sin God hates sin. A hete or homo sexual person must suppress the sexual desire and repent to see the kingdom of God. Not my oppinion just biblical fact.

  • Phil Miller

    None can get to heaven based on his or her good works. No matter hoe compationate a hete or homo sexual is. Sexual sin is sin God hates sin. A hete or homo sexual person must suppress the sexual desire and repent to see the kingdom of God. Not my oppinion just biblical fact.

    You seem to be contradicting yourself here… Which is it? Are good works aren’t what “get us to heaven” or the good work of suppressing our sexual desire allows us to see the Kingdom of God? Can’t you see the inherent contradiction in these thoughts?

  • EricW

    @141 Phil Miller:

    Maybe 140 Ted Walker is making a distinction between “get[ting] to heaven” (i.e., not “based on his or her good works”) and “see[ing] the kingdom of God” (i.e., by “suppress[ing] the sexual desire and repent[ing]“). :?

  • Doug Allen

    How sad. After decades and centuries of selective scripture readings to justify slavery, to justify the second class (or worse) status of women, to justify segregation, condemn marriage between the races, we see the same mind set here. I remember 50 years ago listening to my grandmother about her young adulthood when she was not allowed to vote and was treated with disrespect for arguing that women should be treated equal. I remember my 1961 visit to Birmingham, Alabama, and seeing the whites only and colored only signs and the “welcome all” signs at the churches which were so active in maintaining segregation. From history, I learned how many were burnt at the stake with the approval of the church. When I was young there I remember the insults and biblical arguments that that good church folk used to maintain the status quo- insults and scriptural interpretation that enabled acts of violence. I wonder where all those good Christians who quoted scripture to justify slavery, white male privilege, and segregation went when they died. I wonder the same about those whose selective use of scripture has enabled social and physical violence against blacks and gays. Jeff H is far too kind. As a teacher, I know one or two of those gay kids who internalized the hatred that church and society expressed and who committed suicide. And now, right here on the Jesus Creed blog that I have followed since the very beginning after reading Scott’s book of the same name, right here in the John Piper post and the Jeff Cook post I see some still expressing that same violence enabling, legalistic mind set that has rightfully turned so many away from Christianity. Maybe Christianity needs to die before Jesus can be heard.

  • Bob & Jan Bare

    Twenty years ago my wife and I were challenged about our unloving thoughts and attitudes towards the gay community. It was at a time that it was very unpopular for evangelical christians to have any contact with the gay community, at the height of the Aids epidemic. We had an experience of seeing God’s redemptive grace in the lives of gay people that God brought into our life, very similar to what Jeff Cook writes about in this article. Over the last 20 years, we have met and watched the Lord transform and deliver hundreds of His LGBT children. We have seen them be set free of drug addition, set free from promiscuity, and become followers of Jesus and seekers of God. We have not seen any of them have their same sex attraction change. Those who declare themselves “ex-gay” define it as no longer having gay sex, while hiding and denying their continued same sex attraction. We finally decided that if God wants to deliver, bless, heal, and demonstrate His fruits of the Spirit through the hundreds of friends we now know and love, though He has not changed their same sex attraction, who are we to call unclean those who He seems to be calling clean by the demonstration of His work in their lives. Our biggest obstacle to ministry in the gay community is overcoming the non-loving and non-graceful actions of the churches we used to attend. We appreciate and thank Jeff Cook for his boldness for describing his experience with the two women in his church. May more and more pastors do the same!
    Bob and Jan Bare ~ Dallas Texas

  • http://realclearpolitics.com A Forgiven Sinner

    Christians cannot read the Bible in an intellectually honest way and come to any conclusion other than that homosexual behavior is sin and an abomination – a perverse contamination of God’s intended plan for male/female sexual behavior within marriage. If it is sin that is unrepentant, the church must deal with it – no matter how painful. If it is sin that is admitted and is humbly seeking repentance and guidance, then the church must forgive, love and embrace the sinner.

    Where churches go wrong is when they refuse to call homosexual behavior what it is – sin. It’s no different thatn if members within the church began to promote divorce, or greed, or pornography as “no longer a sin”. Love those gay and lesbian brothers and sisters, but if their allegiance to the LBGT communitiy and what it represents is stronger than their allegiance to the word of God, the church must deal with them accordingly.

  • http://everythingnew.org Jeff Cook

    (Comments 102-145) Thank you all for you participation! And continued reflections. I read all your posts, but do not have time to respond to the many intriguing arguments here.

    I wish you well. Godspeed.


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