Monday, February 11, 2013

Queers and Other Sinners

Tale of Two Testimonies

Homosexuality is in the news – constantly. A slight majority of Americans now favor same gender marriage. The Boy Scouts have created a furor by the announcement that they are reconsidering allowing openly gay men to be scout leaders. A baker is being investigated for violation of Oregon’s Equality Act of 2007 because he refused a cake order upon learning the cake would be used at the wedding reception for two lesbians. Al Mohler in a February 8 Guest Voices column for The Washington Post acknowledged: “Evangelicals cannot join the moral revolution on homosexuality, but it seems unlikely they can stop it, either.”

It this cultural context I read with great interest two testimonies by Christians who have experienced the gay lifestyle.

Christianity Today published in its online edition of February 7 My Train Wreck Conversion. It is the testimony of Rosaria Champaign Butterfield who (1) was a radical lesbian professor living with a partner, (2) became a Christian through the witness of Ken and Floy Smith, and (3) is now the wife a Reformed Presbyterian minister.

Here is part of her journey to Christ that began with a letter Ken wrote to her in response to a column she wrote for the newspaper in Syracuse, New York:

With the letter, Ken initiated two years of bringing the church to me, a heathen. Oh, I had seen my share of Bible verses on placards at Gay Pride marches. That Christians who mocked me on Gay Pride Day were happy that I and everyone I loved were going to hell was clear as blue sky. That is not what Ken did. He did not mock. He engaged. So when his letter invited me to get together for dinner, I accepted. My motives at the time were straightforward: Surely this will be good for my research.
Something else happened. Ken and his wife, Floy, and I became friends. They entered my world. They met my friends. We did book exchanges. We talked openly about sexuality and politics. They did not act as if such conversations were polluting them. They did not treat me like a blank slate. When we ate together, Ken prayed in a way I had never heard before. His prayers were intimate. Vulnerable. He repented of his sin in front of me. He thanked God for all things. Ken's God was holy and firm, yet full of mercy. And because Ken and Floy did not invite me to church, I knew it was safe to be friends.
I started reading the Bible…
I continued reading the Bible, all the while fighting the idea that it was inspired. But the Bible got to be bigger inside me than I. It overflowed into my world. I fought against it with all my might. Then, one Sunday morning, I rose from the bed of my lesbian lover, and an hour later sat in a pew at the Syracuse Reformed Presbyterian Church. Conspicuous with my butch haircut, I reminded myself that I came to meet God, not fit in

Matt Moore, who blogs at the Christian Post, last year posted My Story: Homosexuality, Drunkenness, Grace and Redemption. Later he moved to New Orleans to help plant a church. With increased loneliness came an intensified struggle with same sex attraction which had never gone away. He was subsequently “outed” as having joined a homosexual social networking site. On Thursday, February 7, the Christian Post  published an interview with him part of which is printed below:

CP: You have said all along that you struggle with same-sex attraction every day. What happened in December and January that caused you to log on to (the networking site) again? 
Moore:  I'm not going to blame my actions on anything but myself. I could try and find all sorts of excuses to justify my sin to a degree, but I will not do that. Ultimately, I sinned and got on (the networking site) simply because I wanted to.
CP: How has God's grace helped you with your daily struggles? 
Moore:  His grace has sustained me. I have a hard time wrapping my mind around forgiveness so vast that it could include me and my repetitive failures, but somehow God's grace helps me to believe it nonetheless. The grace of God keeps me in Christ, and for that I am thankful. 
CP: Were you able to talk to anyone when your temptation became overwhelming? 
Moore:  Yes, I have people in my life I can go to. But I tend to not reach out to those sources during temptation. A large part of me believes there's nothing they can do to help me, so I always end up not reaching out to those people until after I've sinned. This is something that must change. 
CP: Have you been in contact with the young man who found you on (the networking site) and outed you...? If so, how would you describe the tone of your conversation? 
 Moore:  Yes, I have. He was angry at first, but after a day or two actually apologized for some of the things he said and did. He has even offered to call a couple of the people he called "outing" me to apologize. He, like most of the media posting about me, had not actually read anything that I've written to any measurable degree. They assume that I'm telling people they need to turn "straight" to be loved by God, which is not a message I proclaim. He did not know that I was open with the fact that I still experience same-sex attraction on a daily basis, something that I've been extremely public with. 
CP: The person who outed you, (name deleted by me), writes on a blog post: "So-called 'ex-gays' publicly promote the notion that LGBT people are sinning against a god who will torture them eternally if they fail to suppress and deny their true nature. But privately, they often seem to have trouble practicing what they preach." How would you respond to that statement? 
Moore:  First, everyone is a hypocrite, regardless of belief system…you can either be a hypocrite under the grace of God or a hypocrite outside of the grace of God. As Christians, we acknowledge that we are hypocritical in word and action at times, and we acknowledge that we cannot be perfect. This is why we don't point to ourselves as models of perfection, but point to Christ as the ONLY perfection. On the Cross, Christ took on our sinful identity, and suffered the penalty we deserved. In turn, He offers his righteous identity to all who believe in Him. So Christians do fail and Christians do sin every single day, but the base of our faith in not ourselves or not ourselves (sic). The base of our faith is Christ and His perfect obedience on our behalf. We are saved not because of anything we have or haven't done, but because of what Christ has done for us. 
CP: Why do you go back to your Christian faith when you are under so much pressure from the gay community to embrace your homosexuality? 
Moore: I always go back to Christianity because it is who I am now. I am Christ's. And at the end of the day, I can do nothing but go to Him. 
CP: How has the church community treated you after you've been outed? 
Moore:  With grace, love and compassion. 
CP: Some people accusing you of being hypocritical say that it was "your religion" that both saved you and let you down. How do you respond to that? 
Moore:  I wasn't saved by a religion; I was saved by a real, living God. And it is not He that has let me down, but I have let Him down. Time and time again, I have failed Him and failed to live a life of holiness. But my obedience is not my salvation; Christ is my salvation. My glue of my relationship with God is the righteousness of Jesus Christ, and that never changes. 
CP: What lesson(s) have you learned? 
Moore:  Many. I have learned not to underestimate the power of my flesh. I have learned to be slow to speak and act. I have learned that I NEED solid, biblical community and fellowship on a regular basis. The list of lessons learned goes on and on.
CP: If you're back on (the networking site) in two weeks, what does that say about God? 
Moore:  Let's take it a little further. Let's say that in two weeks, I have left the faith and have embraced homosexuality again. What does that say about God? It says that God is gracious, loving, good and forgiving….and that I am rejecting that grace, love, goodness and forgiveness. At the end of the day, God is who He is regardless of who we are and what we do. "Let God be true, and every man a liar." 
CP: What boundaries have you established to prevent giving into temptation?Moore:  I have sold my computer and have had someone put a lock on my phone where I cannot download apps or access the Internet through a non-filtered browser. Ultimately, this isn't the solution. My heart being captured by the grace of God and brought into humble obedience is the solution. But not taking precautions is dumb, so these are the precautions I have taken.
CP: What would you say to a Christian suffering from same-sex attraction after this experience?  
Moore:  The same thing I have always said: Jesus is better than sin. It doesn't matter what the specific sin is, Jesus is better. He is more valuable, comforting and satisfying than homosexual behavior, and I can say that from experience. If you fall, get back up and keep pursuing Him. If Jesus went as far as to die for your sin, why would He not help you up when you stumble? The world will tell you to embrace your homosexual desires because it'll make you happy in this life. Jesus tells you to deny yourself and follow Him and promises to give you eternal life if you do. You must decide everyday who you will believe and who you will follow: the way of the world or the Way of Jesus Christ.

One of these persons is female and the other male. I am no expert regarding human sexuality, but it seems generally that the male sex drive is both stronger and more subject to becoming compulsive than the female. The one appears not to struggle with ongoing same gender attraction while the other clearly does. But both cause us to ask some questions about the church's response to homosexuals and other sinners.

(1) How many pastors and their wives would have treated a lesbian leftist professor as did Ken and Floy Smith? I fear the response of many of us would have been to  fire off a letter to the newspaper in response to the professor’s column rather than sending a respectful letter to the professor inviting her to examine the presuppositions of her positions. Rather than patiently developing for a period of two years a real friendship with her, meeting her friends, and engaging in authentic conversations, I suspect many of us would have warned her of her hell and demanded immediate repentance.

(2) How many churches would have welcomed her as it seems did the Syracuse RPCNA congregation? I fear that, if a lesbian with a butch haircut showed up at morning worship at the First Church of Southern City, some of us would have at least silently been crying, “Unclean! Unclean!” even before teaching her by knowing looks and silent treatment that she ought to be doing so when she came near. The question respectable churches and Christians need to ask is, “Just how welcome are real sinners among us?” Jesus may eat and drink with sinners, but do we?

(3) What messages do sinners hear from our ministers and in our churches? I am concerned that, rather than hearing of God’s grace and seeing it in their treatment by the people of God, they may hear the bewailing the condition of culture and see congregations going out aggressively to engage the culture wars before the homosexuals take over. Or, they may hear ministers warning that those present who are indulging secret lusts and leading double lives will soon be in hell, and they may experience congregations thanking God that at least they are not like that (though some of them secretly are but dare not say). 

(4) How do we handle conversions such as the professor’s? When we call them “trophy’s of God’s grace” do really mean that they are wonderful proofs that “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners” and evidences that sinners do obtain mercy. Or is the truth that we are blowing the smoke from the barrels of Christian pistols and adding another notch to the handles? 

(5) What do we do with those l like the struggling young man? Christian strugglers are usually outed (a) by someone who discovers their fall, (b) by a crash and burn situation that results from their behavior, or (c) by their confessing and asking for help. How do we respond? Are we “shocked, just shocked” or are we not at all surprised about the sins that so easily beset us sinners? Would we hold onto such a brother, pledge to him our affection and support, and show him tangible evidence of forgiveness? Would the squeamish among us communicate, “We won’t ask; please you don’t tell." (For many congregants not feeling uncomfortable, or being embarrassed, or having our veneer of respectability scraped off are very important "Christian" values.)  Or, would the more discipline-minded among us more likely say, “We appreciate your honesty, and hope you are really sincere in your faith and repentance, but you are suspended from the Lord’s Supper (means of grace for sinners though it is) until we see more.” Sometimes it seems that the last person to whom a Christian sinner can go is a pastor and the last place where he can expect sympathetic help is the church.

Who should we hope will be in services on Sunday mornings and participating in the lives of our congregations? Women who have had abortions.  Singles who have tried not to but continue sleeping with one another. Those who misuse alcohol and drugs, legal and illegal. Teenagers who have lost their virginity. Gay men and women. Ex-cons. Agnostics and atheists.  And, who do we know are almost certainly there? Shady business persons and lawyers. Students who cheat on tests.  Liars. Materialists. Money lovers. Gossips. Pharisees. Backsliders. Doubters. We are. 

In church we certainly need to hear about sin and righteousness, about death and judgment. From some ministers and in some churches we will seldom or never hear about such things. But, in too many of “our churches” unfortunately we will not much hear about or see in congregational life grace, mercy, forgiveness and hope for sinners – or, to reduce all to one word, about Christ. 


OpaRon said...

Bill, I appreciate your willingness to take on some of the tough issues of our day in a reasonable and readable way. This is certainly one of them! The last two paragraphs are choice - and convicting! Thanks for your ability to drive home a point.

Anonymous said...

Thanks be to God for his love and mercy to each of us sinners, day by day.

Blessed Savior, you hung upon the cross, stretching out your loving arms to us all. Grant that all the peoples of the earth may look to you and be saved; for your tender mercies' sake.