Pastoral Musings from Rain City

it's about 'what is church?' it's about whether 'emergent' is the latest Christian trend or something more substantial. it's musing on what it means to live the city, in America, in community, intergenerationally, at this time in history...

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

An answer, I hope in Truth and Grace

A few more things...

As I shared last Wednesday evening, the conversation about this subject took place between people who agree that the Bible, not cultural trends, is our source of authority. Thus my answer to these questions will be rooted, I hope, in what I believe that the Holy Spirit is saying to the church through the Bible.

One more thing. Psalm 48:13 says that "This God is our God for ever and ever. He shall be our guide forevermore." Because God has made us free, we needn't agree with Psalm 48. We can say, "No thank you. I'll choose to find my guidance from... " and then we can fill in the blank with whatever seems to work for us. At the outset, I think it's important to share with you why I've chosen to say, "God is my guide."

My choice is rooted in the observation that God's precepts and principles have proven themselves, to me at least, to a be a life enhancing playing field. There are limits; fences. Our lives are circumscribed by God's truths as he invites us to live here (generosity for example) and not here (greed). We don't do it perfectly of course, which is why we need Christ. But though we fail, my own life story has led me to believe, after all these years, that God's playing field is, indeed, the place where life can best be lived. I'll hasten to add that playing on God's field most assuredly will lead to a life of self-denial and suffering at various points, for the reality is that I'm inexorably drawn to some of the values on the wrong side of the fence. In a fallen world, all my dreams won't come true. But I'll best be able to find my way by participating in a community that sees God's YES and God's NO as equally life enhancing and preserving.

Here are the questions:

How do you believe God views the union of two people of the same gender? Do you believe it is sinful even if monogamous, loving, and committed?

How can we as a church deny the experience of gay and lesbian Christians that feel called by the Holy Spirit to a covenant relationship? What does the church have to lose or gain by blessing same gender unions?

Let's begin by asking the question: "What does the church have to gain or lose by blessing same gender unions?" because I think everything else will flow from that.

What's at stake, and this isn't just an opinion, but a reality, is the hermeneutic principle that "historical orthodoxy" isn't to be lightly overturned. As I shared already, this doesn't mean that theologians of any particular moment in history shouldn't challenge existing interpretations, for if there were no challenge, many horrific attitudes and actions of the church would still be happening today. On the other hand, there's a real risk in our post-modern era to view the entire past as mistaken and approach theology today as if it's a blank slate, bringing all our 21st century biases to the table when trying to interpret the Bible. This is a huge mistake!

So, at the outset we need to realize that if the church were to bless same sex unions, it would overturn the overwhelming testimony of how the church has understood marriage. The article referenced in the previous article seems fairly accurate and, while not without problems, it is clear that, from Genesis to Jesus, to Paul, to the early church fathers, and then throughout the various arms of the church that have come about because of schisms, marriage has not had a provision for same sex unions within it.

This observation leads me to the another hermeneutic principle that is important for our discussion, namely the issue of looking for movement (such as we saw with dietary regulations). One can find movement on many important social issues, issues on which the church has ultimately moved. Woman were treated differently by Jesus than would have been considered normative in the Old Testament, and Paul made further movement still, acknowledging a female apostle, and declaring that "when a woman prophesies (a declaration carrying the very authority of God), she's to have her head covered". Similar movement is made on the issue of slavery.

However, when it comes to marriage, this movement is simply not there. God declares a reference point regarding what marriage is supposed to be in Genesis 2. Jesus refers back to the same reference point. So does Paul. This lack of movement is, in my world, a hugely important consideration. Like the flame and cloud that guided Israel, we need to be willing to move when God moves. But when that same cloud is stationary, we need to be stationary. The testimony of scripture doesn't indicate that humanity has held to God's reference point well at all.

This is the crux issue, much more than our respective interpretations of Biblical texts about homosexuality, or anything about the nature vs. nurture debate. To bless gay unions would require climbing too hermeneutic walls that simply seem too high: God's lack of movement on the issue, coupled with the church's lack of movement.

What this means:

The church must decide how seriously it takes marriage. Everything written above seems to confine sexual intimacy to two people in a marriage covenant. Surely such a playing field will lead to suffering for all of us. Straight singles need to wait until they're married. Married people need to release their demand for sexual intimacy at various points, due to health issues, weariness, travel, emotional hurdles, and more. Holding our sexuality in this way is an enormous challenge, but the fact that it's challenging isn't evidence that we've got the ethic wrong. I'll note, as I have before, that our collective failure here as heterosexuals is far more dangerous to society than how the smaller homosexual community holds their sexuality. It's an issue for all of us, but for society the impact of departure from God's reference point will be felt more by the departure of the 95% than the 5%.

The church must get over it's homophobia. If the conversation is out of the closet, then we can offer our friends a place at the table, a place in the pew, a place to pray, listen for God's voice, and know, albeit imperfectly, a sense of family and intimacy in this broken world. Some, I believe (because I've seen it), will come to experience a transformation enabling them to marry. Others won't. That's God's prerogative. But all will experience the embrace of a loving God.

I'll close simply by suggesting that, as Lauren Winner writes in her marvelous book, our sexuality isn't a private matter after all. In her book calling all Christians to either chastity or marriage, she observes that this ethic, far from intended to isolate is intended to drive us towards a greater sense of community. Further, she observes that our departures from this (which she believes to be God's ethic) has communitarian and cultural consequences. I agree. That's why the discussion about how all of us are to hold our sexuality is an important one.

Whew! I fear getting shot at from both sides on this one... but if you could know how much I wrestle with articulating this with truth and grace, perhaps you'll use blanks?


At 28/7/09 09:34, Blogger Kevin said...

Richard, thanks for taking on a tough one. I agree that it is a grave mistake to wipe away the past simply because it may no longer speak to us. It is an equally grave mistake, however, to view certain aspects of history without considering them within their full context. Although the tradition of the church shows a relative constancy around the definition of covenant marriage, that thread has run parallel and often intertwined with another tradition within the church, namely intolerance towards and outright violence against homosexuals. To say that the church's position has been constant, one must also say that the church has gone to great lengths to ensure that constancy. I don't think that your position is necessarily wrong, but I do think that these issues need a greater degree of analysis than simple historical precedent. Even if the church's traditional view of marriage did not also include the silencing of the homosexual voice, why would the tradition be important? Why is it important socially and why is it important personally, and--most importantly--what is at stake?

At 28/7/09 09:41, Blogger Richard Dahlstrom said...

Yes, there's been a history of violence against homosexuals that remains until this day. The bigotry and violence utterly misrepresent the heart of Christ, and the church should repent of those actions and attitudes. I think I mentioned that last Wednesday, noting that, if I could I would repent on behalf of the whole church.

For me, the issue is the combination, the reality that there's not only no movement in church history, but also none in the Bible.

At 28/7/09 10:08, Blogger Kevin said...

But if that unmoving position is maintained through violence--which, as you say, "misrepresents the heart of Christ"--than can we also consider the tradition of the church, at least in this area, as being a misrepresentation of Christ? My point is not to throw out the church's tradition but hopefully to cause us to see it through new eyes, to ask new questions of it. The same goes for scripture and the ways in which the church has traditionally interpreted it: I don't want us to throw away the theological wisdom of several millenia, but simply to consider that there might be new ideas in the world. Unfortunately, the tradition of the church has been to incorporate only those views of scripture which support the already popular interpretations and silence those which fall on the margins. While this makes sense if you are trying to build a strong institution, it is far from harmonious if the purpose of that institution is to be responsive to revelation. Moreover, it would seem to me to be a potentially dangerous proposition to extrapolate the heart and will of God based upon precedent. God cannot be contained, even in scripture; how, then, can we say in definite terms what it is that God wants?

At 28/7/09 10:30, Blogger Tanner Allison said...

Another important aspect of this issue is the eternal relationship that this temporal relationship of marriage is supposed to embody. Husbands are called to sacrificially love their wives just as Christ sacrificially loves the church. Wives are to submit to the Godly leadership of their husbands just as the church submits to Christ. With same-sex marriages, those gender roles are hazy and confused. We lose the picture, just as it is lost when a married couple divorces and breaks that union that we know Christ will never break with His body.

At 28/7/09 10:47, Blogger Kevin said...

You make a good point, Tanner, but I wonder if hazy and confused gender categories are such a bad thing. After all, while Paul presents seemingly concrete gender roles in Ephesians, he gives a very different take on them in Galatians, one in which there is "neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female." How are we to interpret this seeming disparity in light of the current conversation?

At 28/7/09 12:03, Blogger Roy said...

Hello Richard - A couple questions come to mind as I read your post:

You mention God's precepts to be life enhancing. Understanding your position to be one that gay Christians should live a life of singleness it would follow that you understand covenant same sex relationships to not be life enhancing. Can you explain this further and why you think they aren't?

When it comes to marriage in general there seems to be a great deal of myth and idolatry in our culture regarding it - particularly in the church. For instance, you reference Genesis 2 and I would argue that Eve's gender really isn't the point. As Lisa pointed out Wed night, immediately after God states that it wasn't good for Adam to be alone He makes the beasts of the field and the birds of the air. What does that mean? Was God confused? After determining that none of these would work Eve comes into being. I think that chain of events sheds some light on this story. Adam needed a companion. Certainly, Adam and Eve populating the earth seemed to be a part of God's plan but is that the real or only point of this story? I don't think it is. We are built for relationship. I think even you would agree that a spouse is not the completion of that need in any of us. I think you would also agree that, because two people of opposing genitalia find one another and decide to marry, that doesn't mean they are equipped to do covenant relationship well.

Finally, as you and I have discussed, when it comes to the writings of Paul and remarks recorded from Jesus, marriage is no longer the ideal for the Christian person. Both Paul and Jesus state that, for the sake of the gospel, followers of Christ should pursue singleness. When was the last sermon you heard discouraging folks from getting married? It would surely bump tithing off as the most unpopular sermon! If the church wants to take the position that homosexuals are called to live a single life, in the effort of eliminating hypocrisy, they have to also engage the teaching that life long singleness is also recommended for the heterosexual Christian as well.

Thanks for taking on this issue, Richard. It means a lot to me that Phil and yourself care enough walk through this with us!

At 28/7/09 13:26, Blogger Richard Dahlstrom said...

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At 28/7/09 13:31, Blogger Richard Dahlstrom said...

Hi Roy, and thanks also for your (and yours Lisa) charitable engagement in this dialogue. Let me start with the place where you and I agree - namely that the church has elevated the married state unduly, especially in light of the very clear teachings of Paul and Jesus.

I sometimes wonder if an elevated view of singleness wouldn't go a long way to addressing much of our confusion regarding sexuality and relationships. I say this because it seems that behind Paul and Jesus' exalted view of singleness is a belief that intimacy with Christ is foundational for all other intimacy. Yes, the grace and gift of marriage offers a human shadow of this, and yes we long for human relationship and contact. Still, the testimony of scripture is that high joy and fulfillment can be found in intimacy with God and friends.

And I suppose that it's in this sense that I feel that, not only gay unions, but many heterosexual marriages, fall short of God's best. Any of our failures to build on the foundation of intimacy with Christ surely lead to more heartache than we need, even though going the route of intimacy with Christ entails its own forms of suffering. You might say that one can have intimacy with Christ and desire a union.

My response is to say that there are areas where Christians who pray to the same God and read the Bible land on different sides of an issue. Slavery was once such an issue. The issue of when to resort to violence (if ever) is another, as we'll see on another Wednesday. I just can't see God's movement on his definition of "highest and best" for marriage. Of course, this challenges the divorce culture of the church more than it challenges the gay community, but it does challenge all of us.

And of course, because we disagree, we need conversation, fellowship, and demonstrable love.

I hope this is helpful.

At 28/7/09 19:08, Blogger Curt said...

I agree wholeheartedly that if one looks at this issue and uses how Christians and the Church through history and today have treated homosexuals that one gets a very muddled and darkened view of how God views this. Because humanity is so full of sin we are bound to mess this up, just like we do pretty much everything else. We favor our own selves more that we strive to honor God. We DO need to get over our homophobia.

However, when I read of individuals who are active in this lifestyle, who advocate that God blesses this I am constantly brought back to what scripture says. Scripture is the Christians guide for..."teaching, reproof, training in righteousness..." The Bible has much to say on this that can't be ignored or swept away. The words that God uses are strong and inflammatory in the eyes of people today and I think that many in the Church take these further than God intends and we move into, what I'm sure is felt, some kind of righteous anger towards these individuals. It's horrible! and not the heart of Christ, as you've said Richard. However, again, we still have to come back to what God says to us in His word. His Word is the Christians guide and it is crystal clear on this issue.

Before I became a Christian I was confronted about my sin. I didn't like it one bit! I didn't think I was THAT bad. But when I was measured against Christ I could see in a heartbeat how full of sin I truly was. I had two choices: Continue in what I was doing and ignore Christ or humbly come to Him in repentance and ask for forgiveness. I see this same thing in this debate. Those advocating this lifestyle and who say they are Christians are ignoring or explaining away what God has said in His word. As you said Richard, "...there is no movement here." In the end we all have to come before Christ and give an account. We must hold to his Word.

I can see how this post might be viewed negatively and it was not my intent to slander or injure so please forgive me if I've come across that way. Thanks for listening.

At 28/7/09 23:31, Anonymous Lisa said...

Richard, et al.,
Despite the encouraging tenor of this conversation and the amazing stories of how last Wednesday's conversation has blessed people, I'm feeling weary.

Hearing folks declare that the bible is crystal clear on the subject of homosexuality and that those who claim to be christian and gay are simply ignoring or explaining away God's words is insulting and is evidence that this person doesn't know me or another gay/lesbian person of faith. Hearing my love for another woman likened to objectifying others or behaving promiscuously feels like a step in the wrong direction and truly tears at my soul.

See, there is actually someone that I love (she was there both Wed for the discussion and Sunday for my baptism), and though we aren't together right now, the way I feel for her and the way she feels for me is beautiful. When I'm in her presence any vestiges of doubt about whether or not I'm okay fall away completely. Not because I'm trying to make it so, but because there's simply no denying that what we share is good, right, and true. I know when I'm doing something wrong, when I'm choosing to ignore God, or when I'm perhaps not doing something wrong but failing to do something right. When it comes to this woman I believe that God will judge me by how I treat her, not because I love her.

Sometimes I feel like we are, as a community, beginning to "see" this conversation more clearly. And other times I feel hopeless. As though we'll be running in these circles forever. I grow tired of the burden of proof resting on the shoulders of gay and lesbian people, like myself, who's only wish is to commit to the person we love and to be accepted and supported by our families and faith communities. I wish for people to stop comparing one of the most beautiful and fulfilling parts of our lives to something that's clearly wrong (lust, greed, etc.). I'm tired of arbitrary declarations that "it's sin". Why's it sin? Because the bible says so? I don't believe that it does, and trust me, I've put some thought and prayer into the subject (even see what Richard says in the next post). Because of church tradition? I believe church tradition is wrong on this subject, largely because the idea of homosexuals as we know them today didn't even exist during Jesus' time so why would they have provided for an inclusive arrangement? Because it's bad for society? I challenge anyone to show me how a gay or lesbian relationship is inherently flawed (or at least any more than a heterosexual relationship).

There are lots of high-minded arguments to make, lots of scripture to proof. But the only thing that's going to really help people understand this issue from a position of grace (instead of personal righteousness and/or naivete) is by getting to know a gay or lesbian christian.

I pray that God will bless this conversation. That hearts and minds, including my own, will be softened and opened. I pray for liberty and reconcililation. And finally, I pray for healing, not only for myself, but for the entire gay and lesbian community for years of villification, isolation, rejection, and heart-tearing words spoken in the name of Christ. May everything we do glorify God.

At 29/7/09 16:02, Blogger Richard Dahlstrom said...

you wrote, "Hearing my love for another woman likened to objectifying others or behaving promiscuously feels like a step in the wrong direction and truly tears at my soul."

In my opinion it should tear at your soul, because it's entirely the wrong thing to say, or even imply. I'm sorry it was said. The reality in the midst of this conversation is that there are gay relationships (I know some) that are more stable and loving than many straight ones.

Even as I write that last sentence, I realize there's much more that must be said, but the "more" shouldn't be said in a public forum because it's personal, about specific instances and situations, plus my own wounds and fears, and perhaps yours. I won't go there in this forum... it would feel too much like some weird reality TV.

But it's important to go there. That's why I think face to face conversations, at some point, become an important step...for everyone.

I'm off to the high country for one night... with three B's... Backpack, Bible, Beef Jerky. I hope we connect when I get home.

At 29/7/09 16:03, Blogger Richard Dahlstrom said...

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