Thursday, September 27, 2012

Questions That Bother Me So

Rant IV

Question to the Fathers:  About Which Church

Question to the PCA:  About Homosexual Attraction

Ask the Fathers. I understand that it is impossible to take someone from the past and plop him or her down in the present and think he or she would be the same person. Calvin would be Calvin genetically, but the complex of historical and cultural factors are so different he could not be Calvin. That acknowledged I would find it interesting for historical theologians to weigh in on an exercise. An issue is brought before the Council of Nicea: “Brethren, while we have been meeting the holy catholic and apostolic church as you know it has disappeared and cannot be recovered. You now have to determine what the church will be from this time forward. These are your options, and you can choose only one: Roman Catholic, Orthodox, Lutheran, Presbyterian, Anglican, Baptist, Pentecostal. Discuss your options, then make your decision. They all claim to be apostolicity.  It’s messy. You would like better choices. You would prefer to pick and choose things among them, but you may not. Your majority vote will determine the theology, polity, and liturgy of the whole church.”  The decision of the Nicene Fathers will determine what catholic church is. How will the vote turn out? Where will the Fathers turn the hearts of their children?

Ask the PCA. There is a very moving interview with an evangelical Anglican priest who struggles same sex attraction here: He believes there are two Christian options for sex: heterosexual marriage or celibacy. He experiences some form of homosexual “orientation”, is celibate, and carries on an ordinary ministry as the rector of an Oxford congregation. Reading and reflecting on this, I began to think, “Could we have in the PCA a minister whose sexual attraction is toward the same sex?” I have little doubt that we do have such ministers. But, could we have a minister who admitted it? I think perhaps  Metro New York would accept such a minister. I am all but certain that Mississippi Valley could not. But should we in the PCA be able to accept such men as ministers? My own thinking at present  is: Yes, a man ought to be able to acknowledge such a struggle in a Presbytery examination, commit himself to chastity, be received, and carry on an ordinary just like any other minister. There is a greater enemy than sexual struggles. It is that some who could be effective ministers, but who need to be helped, musg hide, cover, and live in isolation, “moving in silent desperation.”  I have seen the hard face of what passes for zeal for God in some places, and it is not pretty.

What about ordinary members?  He answers the question of why there is a growing number of homosexual Christians who are moving way from celibacy as the goal for them as Christians:

“I’ve often wondered whether more might have persevered if they had felt there was another way open to them other than the affirmation of a gay identity and lifestyle advocated by the world and the isolation they experienced in the evangelical church with their largely private battle. The world stresses freedom and authenticity and says: ‘Everyone is born straight, gay or bi. You need to be true to yourself and accept who you are’. Same-sex attraction is seen as being entirely natural for some, who are therefore encouraged to embrace their identity as gay people and live it out in whatever way they choose. This message is supported by the individual stories of many whose openly gay lives offer a model of a particular way of living. By contrast, however, we in the church are too often heard to be presenting only a negative message which can leave them feeling deep shame and discourage them from emerging from the isolation of a lonely and private battle, which creates a fertile soil where temptation increases and compromise becomes more likely.”

Asked how churches communicate the negative message he answers:

“The problem is largely caused by the fact that most of our comments on homosexuality are prompted, not primarily by a pastoral concern for struggling Christians, but by political debates in the world and the church. We do need to engage in these debates, but it’s vital that we’re alert to the messages that some of our brothers and sisters may be hearing. Media reporting often doesn’t help and can give the impression that we think this particular sin is especially heinous. Also, in countering the simplistic binary model of the world that people are either born gay or straight (or, occasionally, bi), we are prone to make overly dogmatic comments ourselves about causation and cure. These can be heard to imply that homosexual attraction is just a matter of personal choice. This only increases the sense of shame already felt by those who experience unwanted same-sex attraction and can leave them with the impression that this is a battle that is not safe to share with others in the church. I have become convinced, therefore, that we need not only a greater openness in discussing issues of sexuality, but also a more positive vision and presentation of the nature of faithful discipleship for those who struggle in this area.”

He speaks of those who experience ongoing struggles:

I have found that those I’ve learnt most from have invariably been believers who have grown in Christian maturity by persevering through significant difficulties. The experience of blindness, depression, alcoholism, a difficult marriage, or whatever the struggle may have been, is certainly not good in and of itself and yet God has worked good through it, both in the gold he has refined in their lives and the blessings he has ministered through them. I have seen the same dynamic at work in some godly believers who have experienced a seemingly intractable attraction to the same sex. By learning, no doubt through many difficult times, to look to Christ for the ultimate fulfilment of their relational longings, they have grown into a deep and joyful relationship with him. Their own experience of suffering has also made them sensitive and equipped to help others who struggle in various ways. Those who have not married have embraced the Bible’s very positive teaching about singleness as a gift (see 1 Corinthians 7.32-35), whether chosen or not, which, I imagine, alongside loneliness and sexual frustration, has afforded them wonderful opportunities for the loving service of God and others.”

I have never been a fan of Steve Brown, but one day, while driving and scanning for radio stations, I heard an interview with him in which he said something to this effect: "The church ought to be the best place for person who is homosexual and Christian to ‘come out.’ But, of course, it’s not.” I remember thinking that he was exactly right.  In my view the PCA has a long way to go before it can provide the kind of pastoral ministry needed by those who struggle with the big sins, which are defined among us almost exclusively as sexual ones. We have much to get over and get past before we can in Jesus's name and for his sake welcome those weary and heavy-ladened ones who would come seeking rest from him as he is present in his church. church. There are those who would take his yoke upon them and learn from him and find his yoke easy and his burden light if his church were kind and merciful. Finding him to be meek and lowly of heart by the attitudes and actions of his church, they might find rest unto their souls.



DavidABooth said...

Hi Bill,

Thank you for writing this. Perhaps we know different men in the Mississippi Valley Presbytery but I suspect that they would accept a man who acknowledged his struggles with homosexual attraction while committing himself, through the grace of God, to celibacy.

That said, I'm not sure that "coming out" on any of our sins or sinful tendencies is such a good idea. Isn't it generally a better idea to share our struggles with one or two close brothers rather than announcing them to the world?

The upside of making sinful tendencies, such as homosexual attraction, public is that it helps create space for other people to deal with their struggles by the grace of God. Perhaps I've just grown old, but in a subculture that celebrates "authenticity" and "transparency" I would prefer that there was more serious wrestling with sin and less coming out.

Best wishes,


The Christian Curmudgeon said...

Thanks, David. As I said, I am all but sure about MVP, not absolutely certain. But, I do think know MVP pretty well. I agree about sharing struggles with a few, but what I have witnessed is that, it this is done in terms of the structural provision for it with a a presbytery, the outcome for the struggler is seldom (I am tempted here to say never) for the struggler. Yes, transparency and authenticity are often today taken in a wrong direction. But I think the church culture we have tend toward hiding and "moving is silent desperation." Thanks again for your comments.