On October 7, 2013

The Danger and The Glory

“A person once asked me…if I approved of homosexuality, I replied with another question, ‘Tell me: when God looks at a gay person, does he endorse the existence of this person with love, or reject and condemn this person?’ We must always consider the person.” -Pope Francis

“91% of American Young Adults think of the Church as Anti-Homosexual” -David Kinnamin in UnChristian

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This past Sunday at Highland Church, Sally Gary and I talked about the one thing that churches either don’t ever talk about or talk about way too much.

We talked about human sexuality, and what it looks like to be a disciple of Jesus in today’s world. Sally has written about her experience with same-sex attraction in an incredible memoir “Loves God, Likes Girls” and her ministry has helped Churches and Christian Universities all over the country think through how to talk about sexuality in a more productive way…and what being a disciple means today.

And if you are a Christian, that is the question, not which side of LGBT issues do you fall on, but what does being a disciple of Jesus require of me?

Selling Sex

In their non-religious book, “Premarital Sex in America: How Young Adults Meet, Mate and Think about Marrying” the authors (research psychologists) have interviewed 10’s of thousands of young adults to find out what they think about when they think of sex. And they found that there is really 2 core themes that people in the West or inundated with:

1. Sex isn’t really that big of a deal

2. Sex is the only thing that matters

We’re constantly told that you can’t be fully human if you don’t express your sexuality in whatever venue that you feel appropriate…and that anyone who tries to constrain you is really just holding you back. But here’s a question? Who’s telling this story and why?

Yesterday Sally made the point that sex is the capitalist market best method for selling just about everything. We make fun of the  commercials with the girls in bikini’s selling some totally unrelated product…and then we go and buy that product. Maybe that’s the most damning thing about our current world, the reason that these incredibly degrading advertisements keep coming…is because they are working.

Our church partners with a ministry that helps rescue girls from sexual slavery in other parts of the world, because we know that we shouldn’t sell sex. It is too sacred. But the ugly truth is that we are exposed to selling sex everyday, because Madison Avenue knows what we don’t talk about.

Sex still sells.

Do you remember what Jesus says to the woman at the well in John 4? Does it surprise you how quickly Jesus gets into her sex life? Not just to fix her, but because Jesus is going to go directly to the parts of our life where our heart is.

It’s important to remember that Jesus isn’t trying to take anything away from us. He’s trying to give us the best possible way to be human. And to the woman who is struggling to find “the one” Jesus solution isn’t to try and fix her marriage(s) it is to give her Himself.

The Idolatry of the Family

Listen, I affirm the classic Christian view of sexuality, however, I don’t think that most Christians have any idea how much that view actually challenges all of lives/marriages/relationships.

And that brings me to why, I think, the American Church has had such a problem talking to the LGBT community.

Rockwell pictureThink about the way Churches talk. Think about how many sermon series, and blogs, and all the Christian books you’ve heard about how to have a “Christian Marriage” or how to have a better “Sex life in marriage.” We’ve even got Christian bookstores called “Family Christian.”

In fact, if you are a celibate, single Christian, or if your experience is as a sexual minority trying to follow Jesus, it is incredibly difficult to belong fully to a church. and from time to time you might even wonder, “If Jesus was a single man, who was known for being friends with prostitutes and friends with both men and women alike….is it really Jesus we are worshipping?”

We’ve reacted to the kind of Victorian prudish Christians we saw before us and we’ve arrived at a place of idolatry.

We’ve reached for Jesus and sometimes we’ve actually grabbed something more like Norman Rockwell’s vision of the American family.

I think one of the reasons that the American Church and the LGBT community have had such problem having productive conversations is because often what the Church has been guilty of saying is “You can’t worship the same idols we worship.”

What we really should be saying is that while sex is a good thing, and family is a gift from God, it is also a dangerous thing. Like all good things, it can be made into an idol very easily.

Part of the reason the church has responded so poorly to the Gay community is because we (along with many others) have placed the weight of worship on sex. And sex, even the best sex, can’t bear that weight.  Most churches I know, have very little problems welcoming people who wrestle with greed or a bad temper, but if you’re divorced or a sexual minority it’s hard for us to know what to do with you.

It’s why two weeks ago, Jeff Childers and I after preaching about God’s gift of singleness and celibacy found ourselves surrounded by single Brothers and Sisters saying, “We’ve never heard that sermon before.”

Because idolatry has lots of symptoms.

Now I happen to have a pretty good life, and a family, and a wife, all of whom I love very much. But, on my better days, I don’t love them as much as I love Jesus.  

And if that sounds harsh, than we really need to reconsider what it means to be Christian.

The Christian response to any and all kinds of sexuality is discipleship. If you believe in historic Christian theology than you believe that your body is not your own. You didn’t make it, you don’t sustain it, and ultimately you aren’t going to raise it.

Your body belongs to God.

And so does His Body…the Church.

And I think Jesus wants His body to look a lot more like Him.

Because reading through the Gospels, it seems like Jesus first response to everyone was always one of love and kindness.

So here’s what we challenged people to do at Highland…We believe that the Church and LGBT community overlap in certain places, and one of them is the Anti-Bullying initiative. If you are a Jesus person then you are committed, not to a position or sound byte, but to a posture of being for people.

Following Jesus means you are called to not laugh at those jokes, to not allow someone to be shamed and ridiculed, we are called to stand up for people on the margins in loving and kind ways.

And just like Jesus, we are called to honor the image of God in everyone.

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  • James Michael Jones

    Thank you addressing this compassionately, clearly, and directly. Thankfully, there are Christians embracing all people in love. Sex and the Rockwell painting of a family have become idols. I am really glad you brought that up, too.

    For those of us that love and accept those that have same sex attraction, how do address the issue of performing weddings? We know there is more to a marriage than sex, and it is potentially possible for a marriage to exist without sex. We also do not condemn the fact that people have same sex attraction, and not everyone has experienced God “taking the gay away”. So, is it biblical to endorse and encourage same sex marriages that are rooted in love, not necessarily sex/lust?

    Some of us understand we love everyone, but wrestle with how that plays out, such as supporting marriage.

  • Danny Gill

    Kind of. I really don’t think the church has made an idol of sex. Rather, the church has tried to control sex, and has reacted to a world that has obviously made an idol of sex. It’s like the saying attributed to Luther, “We are like a drunkard who falls off one side of his mule, then gets back on and falls off the other side.”

    I fully agree that we should treat all people with love and respect. We must minister to all people.

    We are more likely to make an idol of family. Yet isn’t the importance and weight and value of family one of the main narratives of the Bible? Aren’t the consequences of poor family relationships part of that narrative? It is inevitable that much of our focus in churches is on family. That’s where most people live, and that’s where most people experience some kind of failure. In our current culture, the failure of marriages is epidemic. The fact that singles feel left out (and that is a fact) does not mean there is no effort to reach out to singles. It’s just that the majority of the attention (when speaking on relationships) goes where the majority of the people are. I’m not sure that’s even a bad thing. I’m not single, but I have felt the pain of being marginalized. I pray that we do not marginalize our singles, or those with same-sex attraction, or anyone. But life doesn’t always work that way.

  • http://stormented.com Jonathan Storment

    That’s fair push-back Bro. Danny. As a singles minister for years at a church that worked hard to love and include singles, I understand where you’re coming from. But here’s the thing, the majority of people in America (for the first time ever) are singles.

    The problem I think churches should re-consider is the narrative that we are implicitly telling about what “the good life is.” I preached a sermon on this a few weeks ago…before we got to reclaiming Singleness as a robust way of life, and actually a gift from God, about the family as great potential for idolatry.

    After all the research preparing for this series, I’m more convinced than ever that we’ve made sex, romance and family into little g gods. An idol is something that we say we can’t live without and gives us our identity. I think that the problems the church is facing e.g. high rate of divorces, 86% of young Christian singles being sexually active etc. are just indicative of the church not having a more balanced view of what a Jesus life is.

    Thanks for the feedback! Hope you’re doing well!

  • Danny Gill

    Definitely food for thought, Jonathan. I admit to a bias toward marriage and family. It would be hard to me not to think that way, as much of my ministry revolves around children. And I am absolutely certain the way to raise children is in families with a mother and a father who love each other and the kids.

  • MVH

    Great thoughts here. I think the other question that needs to be addressed contextually for every church body is: If you have an LGBT couple who participate faithfully (whatever that means) would they still be allowed to be members? Again I think this is a contextual question, at least for churches of Christ. What do we mean by inclusion? I’m not a big fan of the idea of membership but if that is the system one is working with, then those questions need to wrestled with as well.

    Thanks for writing and speaking on this!

  • Joel Solliday

    The church of Jesus has a problem with the LGBT
    community because the LGBT ethic, as I have observed for decades, eschews
    repentance. Our gospel message to them is the same as to ANY who are living in
    sin: Repent and turn to Jesus for full forgiveness and transformation. No church
    should fail to welcome a repentant sinner, whether the sin is greed, a bad
    temper, divorce or homosexuality. Reading through the Gospels, it is clear that
    Jesus’ first response to everyone was that they should repent. I am a celibate,
    single Christian and I am the pulpit minister of a healthy church full of
    families and singles. We are family. Thus, I have found it not only NOT difficult
    to belong fully to a church, but I have been fully welcomed into leadership
    roles in the church.

  • Move on already

    Time to move on. This series is getting old.

  • http://stormented.com Jonathan Storment

    Joel, I like your line, no church should fail to welcome a repentant sinner, and the way you unpack that for a variety of sin. I would add, we don’t have any other choice. We’re all repentant sinners. And I like the way that the Bible talks about God’s kindness is what leads to repentance. I think that’s a key part of Christian theology, we can’t judge people (especially people who aren’t signing up for the Christian ethic, by the Christian ethic) into repentance.

    Also, kudos on having such a positive experience with a church as a Single man. Makes me very hopeful that the church can still function as a alternative community. Thanks for your feedback brother!

  • http://stormented.com Jonathan Storment

    MVH, great question.

  • Eli

    As a minister in a community with a strong LGBT presence, I find it increasingly difficult to maintain our evangelical insistence on the sin of homosexuality. When I have had conversations with church members who say they struggle with same-sex attraction, I don’t hear stories of promiscuity or lewd sexual behavior. I hear church members who are mad at God because they don’t understand why they are attracted to the same gender. They contemplate suicide because they feel worthless and void of purpose. They look at me and say “you’re normal” what’s wrong with me. They believe they were created that way and I tend to agree. But how can I share this with a church who expects me to be the mouthpiece of conservative evangelical Christian principles like “God created Adam ad Eve not Adam and Steve”.

    The problem as I see it is that so many church members have not heard the stories of Sally Gary and others and they have not had the opportunity to formulate thoughts based on the narratives of real people as opposed to the caricatures of homosexuals being portrayed in the media. I am so glad that you and others in churches of Christ are asking these courageous questions. From a theological standpoint, it is so important to realize that Jesus was often criticized for eating with sinners who seemingly were still sinning. I supposed that if the “sinners” he was eating with were penitent, there would have been less of a problem. The prodigal son return to the father and before he could get out his “rehearsed” apology, the father embraced him. After the embrace, the son offered his “rehearsed” apology. Should the church’s embrace of the LGBT come before or after repentance? t’s a struggle for me to see how we mimic the heart of Jesus while maintaining some strong and harsh lines regarding the LGBT community.
    Having said all of that, thanks for your post!

  • Elton

    God loves everyone. He loved Hitler. Out of His love, we are called to holiness. God’s invitation is to come as we are and when we are in Christ Jesus, the process begins wherein God brings changes in a persons desires, behaviors and goals of life. Everyone is invited to come, but some want things their way, not God’s way.
    Elton

  • http://www.ehendrick.org/pastoralcare/index.htm Kevin W. Bridges

    I appreciate your point about being “born” or “created” as gay and I think it’s important to the discussion and was lacking in Sunday’s presentation from my point of view. Sally described her sexuality as an “experience” that is real to her, but that she believes God did not create her that way. While she struggles with emotions, she puts greater weight on biblical theology and therefore finds herself in agreement with the community of faith, even though she still experiences same sex attraction. Thinking of yourself as experiencing gay feelings has the tacit teaching that you should ignore your feelings and experiences whether intended or not. Most of my gay and lesbian friends disagree. They don’t see it as an experience, they see it as part of their identity, which Jonathan discussed a little bit. Being gay is who they are, not all they are, but a part of who they are. They believe they were made gay and those around them could see it as early as 3 years old. With the conviction that “I was made this way” and the emotions to go with it, they find themselves at great theological odds with the bible and the church.

  • http://www.ehendrick.org/pastoralcare/index.htm Kevin W. Bridges

    I don’t think question about who is “allowed” and who is not are ours to ask. The church belongs to Jesus and we gather to encourage one another in faith. We are not running a club or a fraternity that decides who gets in and who does not…there is no “bid night” in the church of Jesus Christ. All are welcome, all are sinners. No one deserves “membership.” I don’t mean to come across as rebuking, I just don’t think we should be asking the who’s in question because it comes across as arrogance, like we have it all together and we do not.

  • http://www.ehendrick.org/pastoralcare/index.htm Kevin W. Bridges

    Idolatry of family, sex, and many other things…sure, but that’s not the reason the church has such difficulty conversing and sharing fellowship with the LGBT community.

    The idolatry that plagues so many churches of Christ is Legalism. Everything is black or white, and unfortunately, life is lived mostly in the GRAY. There’s little room or grace for differences or variety in interpretation or application of the scriptures.

    There is almost zero tolerance to another’s understanding of scripture that differs from one’s own. It’s the same when applied to women’s roles and many other things in the bible. Bibliolatry.

    My own parents have expressed their sadness that I have “left the church” because of mine and Highland’s understanding of the word and our efforts to be inclusive of women (long way to go still) and to the implementation of an instrumental worship service. I’m their son and they believe I have fallen away, when in fact, I’m more in love with Jesus and serving him in my life and ministry more than I have ever done in my whole life.

    As long as we see things in simple black and white terms, we will never ever engage all people. I was thrust into a working relationship with 3 lesbian women during my chaplaincy pastoral education. By working with them, engaging in conversation, and friendship and life, I learned things were complex and way more gray than they were clear and simple. It’s easy for bible beating christians who’ve never actually gotten out of the ivory tower and shared life with someone very different from them, to sit on the throne of judgement. but, if you take the time to be with people and understand them, you will find that your clean, bow-tied, black and white theology will crumble and you will have more theological problems than you ever had before, but a richer, fuller, and I believe, more Christ-like life than you have ever known. Life will be more complicated than it was before, but you won’t want to go back, you can’t go back.