Wednesday, January 26, 2005

Rusty Nails, 1/26/05...

Ilona, at True Grit, wrote a post titled, Assorted Thoughts, she asks, If a Homosexual came into your church, do you really think that person would be satisfied with tolerance? (emphasis in original). I asked her a few questions in her comments section and she has replied with, Agape. ########## Jeff, at Dawn Treader, comments on a post at Evangelical Outpost with, Carter On The Claims of Atheism. He illustrates how it isn't rational that rationality could arise in a world of chance and determinism. ########## Check Peter Kreeft's website for downloadable audio files. ########## Reason's to Believe scholar, Fazale Rana, will be speaking at U.C. Davis on February 1st. Two lectures are planned: Evolution: a Theory in Crisis (apologies to Michael Denton), and The Creator's Signature: Design in the Cell's Chemistry. Both sessions will include Q&A afterwards. ########## Krista, at Theology Mom, shares some insights on the parable of sheeps and goats in, The Least of These Brothers of Mine.

15 comments:

greg said...

Rusty...

I thought your questions were valid, if a little dated. Perhaps these were questions that should have been asked and answered during the AIDS crisis in the eighties. But better late than never, eh?

Rusty said...

Greg,

My questions had more to do with how Christians should express love than with homosexuality in particular. I hear many times that Christians should love as Christ loved, but I typically don't hear specifics on how that love should be expressed. Christ accepted sinners but certainly did not condone the sin; when certain points of his teaching became too difficult, and some people left him... he didn't go chase them down trying to get them to stay.

I also wanted my questions to raise the point that the issue, in general, is very complex. Would we consider kicking someone out of the church today based on their lifestyle? Paul told the Corinthians to do just that in his first letter to them. Note, however, that this was not someone who had just walked in to visit... context matters. Note also that the act Paul told them to do was done so precisely out of love. The person who was booted now had the choice whether to repent and come back, or rebel and go on their merry way. Nowadays a third option seems to be demanded by our culture, that of "accept me as I am!"

So I guess my concern is that advocating that we just love the sinner is too naive. A reformed pedophile should not be left in charge of the 2 year old class anymore than a reformed gambler should be made church treasurer.

This world is fallen.

greg said...

Thanks for your thoughtful comments, Rusty...

I guess the tension in my life as a new believer 34 years ago was, if Jesus could accept me "just as I am" and extend enough grace and mercy, and allow enough breathing room for me to allow my wounded heart to be healed by him, why was it so awfully awkward and difficult for those who claimed his name who insisted they knew his plan for my life and how he was going to heal me and all I needed to do was pray and fast and read my Bible and get this demon cast out of me and get these hands laid on me and make sure I was tithing every Sunday.

And I can't tell you what it did to my heart when I shared with my newly found Christian friends that after all this I was still struggling, one of them said, "Really? We prayed for that last week. Maybe you're not really saved." And though I couldn't bring myself to remain in a church where I was little more than a project for "show and tell" it was pretty obvious to me that Jesus was real. And so it wasn't too long after that I found myself in a gay church.

Is it any wonder this many years later that gay and pro-gay theology flourishes in America? Don't blame homosexuals. And don't blame God. He loves homosexuals. It's Christians who can't stand them.

Rusty said...

Hi Greg,

Thanks for sharing very personal issues.

I understand how you would be so confused, as a new believer, with such bad counsel. I've seen a lot of that mentality with Christians I've known (and I've been guilty of it in the past as well). It's pretty much a "name it and claim it" mentality only not necessarily applied to material gain.

I don't know if the current state of affairs can be so easily attributed to the church though. You need to consider that only fifty years ago there would have essentially been no gay church for you to go to. The sexual revolution occurred with lightning speed and many in the church simply did not understand its importance. I would go further than that and say that many in society at large didn't realize how much of an impact, and how quickly, the change in sexual mores had on society.

I remember in 1975, my first year of college, sitting in psych class listening to a visiting lecturer, who was homosexual, attempt to justify that being gay was compatible with Christianity. Had that person not been loved at a local Christian church or was that person simply attempting to rationalize what he considered his nature with Christianity? I don't know. What was pretty evident was that he had a lot of issues to work out.

But again, I would ask, how should the church have responded to him? If they responded to him like they responded to you, and he was truly a Christian, should his response have been to continue to pursue a lifestyle clearly prohibited in scripture? Was it acceptance he wanted or the Truth? Does the fact that other Christians made irresponsible mistakes in discipling him justify his decision to continue a gay lifestyle?

Had the church "loved" him and continued to exhort and pray with him, then what? If he continued to express a struggle, as you did, would it have been "unloving" to prohibit he be left in charge of a teenage boys campout? Would you have felt unloved if such "precautions" were taken with you back then? How does the fact that certain sins have lasting physical consequences, regardless of whether we've been redeemed by Christ, play into this? I've listened to some reformed homosexuals state that they still struggle with the homosexual tendency. Does addressing that fact mean that Christians don't love them?

What would you have expected to see from those well-meaning, but badly misguided, Christians you interacted with after your conversion? And I'm not looking for "that they loved me" but for some specific scenarios of how they could have expressed love to you.

greg said...

Hi, Rusty...

Thanks for the clarification. I've had a long day with a longer day coming tomorrow, but with a few hours sleep I'll feel like giving you a worthwhile response to your questions. I can tell you though that my impressions of the Church in dealing with my brokenness were based virtually entirely on what Christians universally stressed to me, and that was performance; that is, what I did to please God was more important than who I was to him.

If the Church had taken the time to show me that I had value as I was and that God was willing to accept me as I was but quite unwilling to leave me there, perhaps there could have been that "breathing room" I mentioned earlier. But in the 70s, homosexuality was quite misunderstood by the Church, and in the eighties when AIDS began to decimate our communities in San Diego, LA and San Francisco, as well as around the rest of the US, that would have been an amazing time for the Church to rise up and present itself as a santuary for the lost, the fearful, and the dying. Instead, what we got was the message that AIDS was God's judgement on us fags, that we got what we deserved, that we were all going to burn in hell anyway. Just another message of hope from the people of love, Rusty.

Now, I continued in a gay church, but nothing bothered me more on Sunday morning than getting hit on. I mean, really, couldn't we do that in a bar? Isn't church supposed to be about something different? But the same thing happens in straight churches, too, so I shouldn't use that as an excuse for anything.

I can't speak to your experience in 1975, either. I have no idea what motivated the speaker to make the choices he was making. And frankly, Rusty, I found God in the gay church. I found that God is not bound by physical walls, or denominational creeds, or even social mores. He simply goes where he sees people who are seeking him. And God knew that I needed him more than I didn't need to be gay.

I haven't responded to your whole question, but I'll finish in the morning. Thanks for putting out such an intelligent blog. You're definitely one of the very good ones.

greg said...

Wow. I'm amazed that i have to work for a living and how much that intrudes on life. Be that as it may, I have just a moment here to respond to a thought or two...

You seem to have a thing about keeping this wayward individual from being in charge of a teenage male campout. Fine. I'm with you on that, providing you understand that many teenage boys are much more at risk from their peers than from adults. Sex is much more a value- and gender-neutral dynamic among teens these days. As a pastor I know you know that so I won't belabor the point.

But with regard to this specific individual, of course I don't expect you to place your teens at risk with this individual, if in fact you feel there is a reason to believe this man has a predatory spirit. But part of the challenge comes in being able to communicate this, if necessary, in a loving and healing manner to this individual.

Quite frankly, I was never a threat to teenage boys so in answer to your question, I would have been mightily offended at such a percaution. But its important for you to understand that much of the sexual, physical and emotional trauma in my life came at the hands of teenage boys, who to this day I hold in a certain amount of disregard.

You use the word "justify" to explain this individual's decision to continue in sin. I've never thought of the trauma or abuse in my life as a justification for sin, or even an excuse. But it certainly gave me my reasons to keep looking for new ways to fill that longing that had never been met.

I'm not sure I know what you mean by "lasting physical consequences" in the context of your letter, but your phrase "reformed homosexuals" puts my teeth on edge. You make it sound like we're a bunch of former car thieves or check kiters. I'm not a reformed anything, except perhaps a reformed sinner (certainly in the oprocess of becoming one) and it would really help if leaders such as you began to look upon people such as me in that light. That's the only way your church family will learn and grow.

And I still "struggle" every now and then (though I think that's overstating the case a bit), but I understand now what I'm being attracted to, and it has nothing to do with sex. It has everything to do with the qualities I admire in another person, those characteristics I value and crave for myself, and think if I had them I would feel more secue. All of that is an ilusion. My value, my identity, my security, all come first from the Lord before anyone or anything else.

Off to the rodeo. Fight the good fight, Rusty.

Greg

Rusty said...

Hi Greg,

Thank you, as well, for your further clarification.

One correction though… You wrote, As a pastor I know you know that so I won't belabor the point. I’m not a pastor (and I don’t even play one on TV). My degree is in Construction Management, and my limited knowledge base in theology is due to an equally limited amount of reading I have done on my own. I would eventually like to take the Masters of Christian Apologetics program at Biola (tending to the education of my kids is a currently higher priority).

I understand that the Church has done a dreadfully poor job of ministering to the homosexual. But I must continue to stress that “misunderstanding” the homosexual was not a condition primarily found in the Church. Society at large was quite unprepared to deal with the coming out of the gay community. Imagine, if you will, what the response would be if increasing numbers of pedophiles “came out.” While I don’t think that you would deny they need the love of Christ, how would you expect society at large, much less the Church, to respond? While it is no excuse for the actions of those who let you down, we must remember that they are fallen humans as well.

I remember the ‘80s and the AIDS crisis. I also remember certain Christians condemning the homosexuals who had AIDS (although, I think some of the most vitriolic condemnations I heard came from colleagues who were not Christians). And I remember Christian ministries targeting those with AIDS. Granted, they were few and very far between, but they were there. Why paint the entire Church with one broad brush?

Yes, I’m aware that sex is viewed differently by today’s youth (i.e., gender-neutral). The point I was raising by the teenage boy campout is that a person with a known weakness shouldn’t be put in a situation that tests that weakness (hence, my additional comparison of a person with a proclivity to gambling not being made the church treasurer). For another example, I think that a young man, regardless of his sexual tendencies, should not be put in charge of teenage girls (but especially if the man expresses a weakness in succumbing to sexual desires). It isn’t a matter of distrust as much as it’s a matter of common sense. And I agree that communicating this fact, to either the homosexual or the gambler, must be done with Christian love and respect (easier said than done).

Another thing that makes the situation with the homosexual a bit different than other situations is that rarely do we find someone confessing that they have a weakness for sleeping around with members of the opposite sex. Unfortunately, though, we usually find out about such a weakness after the fact. It would do the church a world of good if we had the transparency to confess our weaknesses with one another AND to have said weaknesses dealt with in true Christian love. But if we have such a hard time with our “petty” sins, how much more so will we with sins that are considered, culturally, to be even more taboo? Again, this isn’t to excuse the poor way it’s been dealt with in the past, but more to explain how difficult it is.

When I referred to the homosexual lecturer justifying homosexuality within the Christian worldview I meant that he was attempting to use certain scripture and / or illustrations from the Bible to argue that homosexuality really wasn’t a sin.

By “lasting physical consequences” I mean that our choice to sin has specific consequences in the world we live. Do those who engage in promiscuous homosexual behavior (or intravenous drug use) run a greater risk of contracting AIDS than those who don’t engage in such behaviors? Even though the recovering alcoholic is now dry and a confessing Christian, his liver is still shot (barring miraculous activity from God). While the promiscuous young lady is now chaste, a believer, and pure in God’s sight, she cannot claim virginity. These consequences do not make the person any better or worse, in God’s eyes, nor should they in ours, but we need to recognize that they are real nonetheless.

Perhaps “reformed homosexual” was not the proper term to use. I would not call an alcoholic, who has been freed from his disease by God and is now a confessing Christian, an “alcoholic.” I would refer to him as a “recovered alcoholic,” or a “former alcoholic.” Certainly we Christians are all “former” sinners in the sense that we have been saved from being slaves to the flesh. And certainly we are continuing to be saved in the sense that we have not yet reached a fully sanctified state. Am I singling out specific forms of sin when I refer to someone as a former _______ (fill in the blank)? Yes, I guess I am. But, in a sense, it is part of the “lasting physical consequences” I mentioned above. Certain physical sins can carry more physical baggage than others.

I apologize for offending you with my remark.

You say, My value, my identity, my security, all come first from the Lord before anyone or anything else. Yes, I wholeheartedly agree. We must always be cognizant of the fact that every single person in the world, including the one looking back at you in the mirror, can let you down. It is only when we realize that God not only won’t, but can’t, let us down, that we start to begin to understand His love for us.

greg said...

Hi, Rusty...

Thanks for the further clarification. I don't know how in the world I was laboring under the misconception that you served as a pastor, other than to say the church could likely use a few more such as yourself. By all means, take that as a compliment. It was certainly intended as such

I'm glad to see there are some areas of profound agreement for us. That helps. It's good to know agreement is not only desirable, but possible. And it helps to know that there are areas where we can also agree to disagree, providing the important stuff stays intact.

Before I leave this issue of being a "former" homosexual, I think it's important to understand from my vantage point that the fact that I once struggled with same-sex issues and the fact that I don't now is no guarantee that I never will again. On the other hand, I understand that God is not finished with me yet. But I think the church's expectation is that somehow I'm going to be "cured" of my homosexuality. Here's my thinking on that, Rusty. If you lose an arm in an accident and you goes to church and fast and read your Bible and get all the prayer you could ever want, I have found that 99.9% of the time, God will not make that arm grow back. People who have suffered a loss do not live life as if that never happened, and God does not give them amnesia as if that loss never happened. God is not in the business of giving people lobotomies to erase the past in order to make the present easy.

The point being, the losses we suffer are real. The things that happen to us will not vanish as if they never happened. That is what the word "cure" often implies and that is the illusion that people often try to chase when they think of recovery from homosexuality. "Somehow, if I pray long and hard enough... Somehow, if I make it really clear to God that I really agree with Him and I really want to change, then maybe one day God will zap me and I will never struggle with this again and I will be immune to any type of same-sex attraction and it will be as if it never happened." This is often the non-articulated thought from a belief system deep down in the heart that people really do hold on to. This is an illusion, a false belief that will only set you up for disillusionment.

As for homosexuality being a sin, I say it's no more a sin than any other consequence of living in a fallen world. I think you and I can agree that we live in a fallen world, though we may disagree on exactly what all that may entail. For me, Rusty, I believe it touches absolutely everything about our world. Our sociology is fallen. We have greedy government, corrupted politics and governments in the world. We have tribes of people, nations and groups of people. Our biology is fallen. I don’t care if you are redeemed. You will get sick, you will grow old and you will die one day (if you live long enough). Our psychology is fallen. We are insecure and we envy. We are conditioned to envy, we are conditioned to covet, we are conditioned to be unsatisfied with what we have. We are people who are insecure, who are jealous. We are all fraught with this because our psychology is fallen.

Psychology, biology, sociology, and all the area that those things touch have all been affected by the Fall. None of that has necessarily been cured, even in the lives of Christian people. So, when I talk about healing from homosexuality or any other physical, emotional, mental, spiritual derailment, I mean not living life as though the Fall never happened.

It happened, and some of us suffered enormous losses. Some of us were disfigured psychologically and emotionally, whether or not we ever had anything to do with homosexuality. Some people suffer biological problems. They are born deformed or impaired, with not all of their systems functioning. We’ve all been affected by the Fall, and God will not necessarily make it as if it never happened in this life.

So in some respects, perhaps, the bar has been lowered in the eyes of the church that has expected perfection from people who have struggled as i have struggled. What I am striving for in God's eyes now is simply this: The ability to live a productive and enjoyable life beyond the control of life-dominating sexual behavior and impulse. Not free from the opportunity to sin, mind you, but free from the power of sin. We're saved from the power of sin – through the death and resurrection of Jesus the penalty of sin has been canceled against us – but we still live within the presence of sin. Everyday in every way, Rusty, you and I both have the ability to fall short of God's standard. Somehow, someway, in thought, word, deed, attitude, action, motive, we can fall short of what God intended.

This has little to do with the issue of homosexuality but it has everything to do with our fallen nature. I think we underestimate how deep and pervasive our fallen nature really is. On the other hand, this is how great our salvation is. It absolves us of what we did, what we will do, and what we are. This means there are two parallel truths that exist simultaneously within us. Yes, I am a child of God, a new creation, adopted. I am born again and being transformed. However, I am of the fallen race and I will not be free from what has been corrupted until that day I remove corruption and put on incorruptability when I am before Him.

The word "cure" implies an improper theological statement. We are not cured of our fallen nature, in the sense that somehow, someway, in thought, word, deed, attitude, action, motive, we can fall short of what God intended. So I don't like to use the word "cure." It’s not realistic. So if you can get your heart around this notion of healing as opposed to a cure for this wound known as homosexuality, then we have somewhere to go from here.

We can live a life, however, not as if these events never happened to us, but we can live life beyond them. That's what Christ offers us as people, not just people recovering from a particular bent. We can live life beyond what happened. We can live life beyond the Fall. That's the goal.

Blessings, amigo.

Paul said...

Greg - I don't share your beliefs (or Rusty's) on religion, and possibly not even on homosexuality (it's fine by me, but demonstrably not the choice I would make). But I was interested to read your last comment, as it touches on an issue that always puzzles me about the role of sin.

I guess I could summarize it by the idea of "Let he who is without sin cast the first stone." Assuming for the moment that homosexuality is a sin in Christianity, then yes it needs to be in some way 'fixed'. But there are so many other sins, as I understand it, and so many of those are inherent in humans, that none of us is sin free. And hence trying to 'cure' homosexuals seems...I want to say hypocritical, but that doesn't seem to do it justice.

Rusty said...

Hi Paul,

I won’t presume to speak for Greg, but I can address the gist of your inquiry. You are right in observing that the Christian worldview states that none of us are sin free (Romans 3:23). You are also right in observing that there are so many other sins besides the sin of homosexuality. So… it seems that a Christian pointing out one particular sin in another Christian is being hypocritical, right? Well, not quite. The issue isn’t that someone who “judges” another person is necessarily being hypocritical, but that someone who hypocritically judges another person is. In the example of “Let he who is without sin cast the first stone,” we find that the Pharisees were attempting to trap Jesus. Their motives were wrong. Notice that they brought only the woman before Jesus (when the law stated that both participants in adultery should be stoned). Where was the man? They weren’t interested is seeing justice served, by way of the accusation of adultery but, instead, were looking for a way to trap Jesus into a no-win situation. Also, in the greater context of the passage we find that Jesus was teaching that only he was truly qualified to judge humanity. It was a polemic for his true nature.

Now judging, in and of itself, is not taught as being wrong in the Bible. It is only when it is done with the wrong motives. Again, one needs to remember that, in instances as the one mentioned above, the context indicates judging done from a hypocritical point of view. Judging, from the proper perspective, is certainly permitted within scripture. Consider that Paul gives specific instructions and qualifications with regards to selecting church leaders. It’s not that Paul was claiming to be perfect himself, nor was he claiming that those church members who failed to meet the qualifications were not, in fact, true Christians. He was merely setting forth common sense guidelines with which to choose capable church leaders. Paul also refused to take Mark with him on a missionary journey because he didn’t consider Mark’s work ethic strong enough (my paraphrase).

There also needs to be a distinction between a Christian who continues to sin, without expressing remorse, and one who continues to struggle with sin. Paul told the church in Corinth to boot-out a member who was living with his step-mother – not because Paul considered himself better than the person, but because the person was unrepentant about his actions. Note that Paul’s motives were not based on hypocritical judgment but were actually based on Christian love. He specifically stated that if the person should see the error of his ways, repent, and want to return to the church, that he should be welcomed back. Clearly, that does not indicate a hypocritical attitude (which would have been evident had the church continued to shun the man despite his repentance).

Is this difficult to work out in real-life? Yes, it’s very difficult. In my opinion, some Christians try to circumvent the difficulty by either maintaining a hypocritical attitude of self-righteousness, or by ignoring the sin altogether. We need to find the proper middle ground of true Christian love.

greg said...

Hi, Paul...

Sorry I'm late getting back to you. I have a wife recouping from double pneumonia and I'm pulling double shifts on just about everything around here. I agree with Rusty all across the board on his very thorough response.

Just about the only place where we might differ is in this area of homosexuality. What I mean by that is: I believe homosexual behavior -- the physical act of same sex behavior -- is a sin and forbidden by God, as Rusty does. But I do not believe it is a sin to be homosexual, providing I choose not to act on my attractions and impulses. Does that make sense?

It's the behavior -- internal fantasies leading to masturbation, same-sex behavior, etc. -- that is sinful. But the state of actually being homosexual is not sinful, providing I choose -- and that's the key word -- not to act on it. Any more than being heterosexual and single would be a sin if I chose to engage in sexual acts outside the covenant of marriage.

Now, why would a loving God burden me with such an attraction? I don't know. Maybe he didn't. Maybe it's a part of that whole "fallen world" thing I mentioned earlier where things started out right and got derailed. But that's not God's fault. Nor is it mine. Adam and Eve made a wrong choice and we've all suffered the consequences.

Hope this helps. Or at least doesn't make things murkier for you.

Rusty said...

Greg,

I would agree with you that a propensity to certain behavior is not, in and of itself, sin. Of course, this opens up another point of discussion regarding an individual who, through chemical imbalances, loses control of his actions. At what point is the person culpable of the act of sinning? As Christians, however, we believe that while all have sinned, God is just (in other words, it's up to Him to decide and He's not asking for our advice).

greg said...

Hi, Rusty...

You hit the crux of a very critical issue in the arena of healing -- not just healing from sexual brokenness. I often struggle with the whole notion of life's "fairness." I have to keep going back to this place of reminding myself that life is not fair. Why are some people beautiful and some people not? Why are some people rich and some people not? Why are some people privileged and some people not? God never said we had an equal start in life. Life is not fair. God is better than fair because God says His justice will compensate our losses. That’s better than giving us an equal start; He gives us a much better finish.

Life isn't fair, and believing that it is will sabotage our recovery. The fact is, why was I born in a middle class family in the middle of the Bible Belt with every material provision possible, yet in Thailand children are sold into sexual slavery at the age of three or four and have AIDS by the time they are five or six? Life isn’t fair. But God is just. And he is good.

You're right. That's a whole 'nuther smoke.

Greg

Paul said...

So how do you decide if you're being hypocritical in your judgement of a person?

Rusty said...

Motives and attitude are a good indicator (though not necessarily comprehensive). The acts of judgment shown by Paul were driven out of love for the person and the church.