nuance

A few thoughts have been rattling around my skull for a bit, so in this post I’m going to try my hand at identifying a serious problem in the church today. Here I go:

1)    It’s not lupus. ( Anyone? Anyone?!)

2)    We have done a poor job of distinguishing the social significance of homosexuality from its intrinsic theological significance. In other words, we have conflated two things that should, I think, remain separate.

Any cursory glance at a major news source will quickly reward you with at least one LGBTQ article (or 17 of them if you read HuffPost…which I do). In fact, media references to LGBTQ rights/struggles/triumphs are so common (Chich-Fil-A, anyone?) that 35% of Americans think that 25% of Americans are gay, when the actual number is probably somewhere between 2-4%. (And seriously, America?! 25%? That means the average family of four has at least one gay person in it. Holy crap, my family has four people in it! That means someone in my family is — ohhh wait.)

All this to say: society believes that the growing presence of LGTBQ people is one of the most important social developments of the 21st century, and I am inclined to agree (until the alien overlords arrive, at least).

I think the evangelical church looks at that (and the “war” on the traditional family), sees the potential challenge such a development could pose to its teachings, and becomes immensely sensitive (in the not-so-great way) and skeptical toward all things “gay.” This, unfortunately, has at times included me.

As I’ve said before, I really don’t think the fact that I just so happen to be attracted to men is of any great theological import. It isn’t entirely inconsequential, but, theologically, I wouldn’t categorize myself differently than any other single Christian. My attractions aren’t the result of some unaddressed sin, nor do they mark me as especially incapable of faithfully living the Christian life. Truly, before God, they aren’t that big of a deal. (See this post or this post for more on that.)

And yet in the current political/cultural climate I can understand why that would be so hard for certain church leaders to believe. From almost every direction they are being told that sexual orientation is a huge deal, and so it’s not terribly surprising that the nuanced distinction between the theological and social significance of homosexuality is overwhelmed by the static roar of a divisive, so-called “culture war.”

This is one of those wonderful areas of tension within the Christian life, and I’m not entirely sure how to best move forward in it. How can the church do justice to the very real social weight of homosexuality (abstractly and concretely) without burdening our church communities with a theology that wrongly inhibits chaste, same-sex attracted men and women from serving and living like other members (or wrongly promotes stigma against non-chaste men and women)?

Wow, this is harder to articulate than I expected, my apologies. While acknowledging that the church needs to put forth a very concerted effort to reach out and minister to those in the LGBTQ community, I also don’t want things to be blown out of proportion. Because certain leaders at my church are so aware of the current controversies surrounding sexuality, I became controversial myself despite living faithfully. To them, and many others, the fact that I am attracted to men can’t be anything but a glaring theological problem that affects how I serve the church. Because the public discourse is so fraught with language of a polarized morality, it is difficult for people to imagine that my attractions could possibly be morally neutral.

Does any of that make sense? I’ll stop there and maybe let this play out in the comments, if y’all have any. If I kept writing it would just be like subjecting you guys to watching me bowl – i.e. it would only confuse and frustrate you, and invite the wrath of God upon me. It’s…not a pretty thing.

Peace,

Jordan

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9 thoughts on “nuance

  1. Would it necessarily change things if the attractions were not morally neutral (your second to the last paragraph)? If they are ultimately derived from the Fall, then–like sickness–they could be morally neutral, or–like my attraction to pride, selfishness, etc.–they may not be morally neutral. But does it really matter? They still would need to be resisted, right?

    • I think the main difference would be in what would then constitute “resistance.” Am I repenting of the fact that I am attracted to the same sex, or am I focusing instead on combating lust, objectification, and mistrust of God? It sounded like, to me at least, a large part of the problem was that I was neither repenting of my orientation nor actively trying to move toward no longer being attracted to men.

      It sounds kind of like I’m splitting hairs, but it does make a conceptual difference that affects how my status before God is understood by leadership. If my attractions are sinful, then it would make sense not to let me serve in leadership if I am not repenting of my orientation because then I would have heaps of unrepentant sin on my back.

      At least that’s what it seems like is going on, maybe I’m wrong.

      Jordan

      • Maybe I’m the one splitting hairs! I see it a little differently. I think we can have desires that are sinful without sinning. (Now that’s splitting hairs!) As we go through life, various desires arise in our hearts, some good and some bad. If the desires are sinful, but we resist them and turn from them and replace them, then I don’t think we are sinning. James 1:14-15 seems to support this: having sinful desires can lead to sin, but having them is not necessarily sinning. I may be wrong, but it seems to me that a legitimate position could be stated this way: homosexual desires/temptations are sinful, but having them does not constitute sinning. They need to be resisted and turned from, but it doesn’t mean you “would have heaps of unrepentant sin on your back.” Perhaps the key in this argument is defining where same-sex desire becomes sinful desire.

      • Scripture’s issue regarding homosexuality is with behavhior and thought life, not the flavor of the thoughts. If a gay orientation isn’t morally neutral I’d simply be damned. I’d see it as calling a blind man to repentance for being blind, or omnivores to repentance because before the fall meat wasn’t eaten. Many things are the result of the fall but not all, I believe, create a moral culpability in and of themselves. We are called to life long repentance and sanctification but I’d fear a God who holds His children morally culpable for simply existing in a fallen world. For more scripture I’d look at the account of the man born blind, when asked who sinned the boy or his parents that he was born blind Christ responds, neither. But that God maybe glorified through him. My daily prayer is that God, regardless of any orientation change, may be glorified through my life and through my fallenness.

      • You wrote: “If a gay orientation isn’t morally neutral, I’d simply be damned.” Would you say then that if my selfish orientation isn’t morally neutral, I’ll be damned? Or if my lustful orientation or prideful orientation (all true of me) aren’t morally neutral, I’ll be damned?

      • The distinction I would make between those orientations is this. Through God’s grace and His spirit we are able to resist and struggle against those passions, whether pride, lust, or selfishness. The parallel with a gay orientation would be if your selfish orientation is strongly directed towards people from Kansas. You struggle against the selfishness and not the fact that you might be a stateist (state equivalent of racist?). As you wrestle to diminish your selfishness you can hope to develop a selfless attitude towards people from Kansas. This is like a gay orientation and lust. I wrestle each day with lustful thoughts, these thoughts are something that i may struggle with my whole life but yet i’m still called each day to fight, through God’s spirit, against them. The fact that these thoughts are towards people of my own gender rather than the opposite gender changes nothing. I strive to each day view men, through Christlike eyes, as friends to be loved and appreciated and not as sexual objects. In the same way straight Christian men are called to view all women without lust or passionate desire outside of the context of their spouse if they have one. Outside of the context of marriage there is no difference in our shared wrestling with lust, apart from the flavor of that lust, and the point I wish to make is that that the flavor of that lust is morally neutral. Since sexual intimacy is something I believe is reserved for the sacrament of marriage, and that confined to be between one man and one woman, therefore there is no morally neutral outlet for gay “flavored” desires.

  2. 1) It’s never lupus.

    2) Oliver O’Donovan has written some great stuff that addresses some of these ideas in his book Church in Crisis. (And an earlier draft of some of those thoughts can be found in a web sermon of his called Good News for Gay Christians.)

    3) Maybe you could move in a prescriptive direction with these thoughts? Like: the church can help gay people manage the (very real, very great) social weight of our day-to-day lives by properly assessing the theological weight of homosexuality (eg: not a big deal), and celebrating same-sex chastity?

    Perhaps, in fact, by coming alongside Christians trying to learn how to be gay in the 21st century, we all learn something about what it means to be PEOPLE in the 21st century?

    This comment was more scattered than your post!

    • 1) I had lupus diagnosed almost two years ago. I did a little jig because House was wrong. Aside from, you know, having lupus, it was an awesome moment. Earlier this summer they retracted that diagnosis to a “We have no idea” auto-immune disease. A decisive victory for Dr. House.

      2) I need to read more of the O’Donovans. They’ve been suggested to me many times. Thanks for the recommendation!

      3) That’s what I think. The church has, I believe, contributed to the social weight with it’s less than stellar track record of loving gay people. I’m not so sure the church realizes yet that it’s actually making its life harder, its witness less compelling, by turning homosexuality into such a huge theological issue. Yea, I think you’re very right.

      Thanks for the input, man! You’re fantastic.

      Jordan

  3. I’ve said this bdfore, so here we go again! A major part of worship in my church (Presbyterisn in America) is a confession of sin. So I can reject homosexuals only if I am not, or have not been immorally attracted to women. Jesus made it very clear: Let he who is without sin throw the first stone. There are no doubt some churches, and many church-goers who do not confess their own sin, with this result. Please join me in praying for them. . . and for me! .

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