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How I Situate Myself in the Homosexuality Debate

Christians are drawn to the homosexuality controversy like moths to a flame.

The latest controversy (of many) is the announcement by World Vision that they would be willing to hire a gay Christian in a same-sex marriage. They weren’t taking a position of the topic of same-sex marriage, they were acknowledging that churches and Christian denominations have differing positions on this subject and they no longer felt that they should bar professing Christians who are in committed same-sex marriage from employment with their organization.

The Internet blew up. Many conservative Christians chimed in to condemn World Vision. Michael Brown launched into a tirade about The Apostasy of World Vision. Brown says: “This is a betrayal of the gospel, a betrayal of the Lord, a betrayal of the family and a betrayal of the countless thousands of Christians who have put their trust in World Vision as a legitimate Christian organization.” Matthew Lee Anderson explains to conservative Christians that they need not feel guilty about withdrawing their support for children they might be sponsoring overseas: On whether Christians should keep supporting World Vision. Southern Baptist Professor and blogger Denny Burk says that World Vision has crossed “the theological Rubicon” through this announcement. He likens the leaders of World Vision to the false teachers we are warned against in the New Testament: The Collapse of Christianity at World Vision. Chad Holtz says that World Vision’s new policy is evidence that the relief organization, like the United Methodist Church, is actually in the grip of Deism: What World Vision and the UMC have in common. John Piper says that World Vision’s new policy “sets a trajectory for the demise of true compassion for the poor”: World Vision: Adultery No, Homosexual Practice Yes. A report from Christianity Today says: “The day after the announcement was made, the Assemblies of God, one of America’s largest and fastest-growing denominations, urged its members to consider dropping their financial support from World Vision and instead ‘gradually shifting’ it to ‘Pentecostal and evangelical charities that maintain biblical standards of sexual morality.'”

And plenty of people have pointed out the hypocrisy involved in all of this. Why has gay marriage — a topic about which churches and denominations, not to mention the general public is bitterly divided — taken precedence over the imperative to help the poor and the needy? Randal Rauser points out that evangelical Christians are talking about withdrawing support from World Vision because they are willing to hire people in same-sex marriages, but have not demanded that the organizations they support have policies which keep them “from hiring folks who have been divorced (for reasons other than covenantal unfaithfulness) and then remarried whilst the former spouse is still alive ” — something clearly prohibited by Jesus himself. Benjamin L. Corey wrote about When We’d Rather Let Kids Go Hungry Than Be Reasonable On Gay Marriage. Further, in light of the outcry over World Vision’s proposed policy change he says that now evangelicalism is fractured: The Day Evangelicalism Died. He writes: “Be clear: this actually wasn’t a debate on same sex marriage. This was a debate on whether or not a Christian organization can hire gay Christians from denominations who have a different theological perspective on the issue.”

However, the outcry was very successful. In the first place, Children were quickly dropped from sponsorship, as indicated in the tweet below (I don’t know whether they read Matthew Lee Anderson or not):

Hard not to hate here. MT @rvccryan: my wife works for WV. In today’s staff meeting Richard Stearns announced that so far 2000 kids dropped.

— Luke Harms (@lukeharms) March 26, 2014

 

So, in response, World Vision reversed it’s position: World Vision Reverses Decision To Hire Christians in Same-Sex Marriages. Rachel Held Evans has posted a lament over this reversal here: World Vision Update and in a updated post here: Who’s this child sponsorship about, anyway?

World Vision will pay a price for this controversy — some of the support that was lost will not be regained — but so will those who protested most loudly. It will be new evidence that Christians are rabidly anti-gay. I’m not sure journalist Damon Linker is right that “…churches should brace for a mass exodus of the faithful” but it is undoubtedly true that the louder the protest against gay and lesbian people, the less credible the church looks as an advocate for love and respect for all people.

Nothing gets Christians riled up like the homosexuality issue. It is the Christian moral issue that no one can solve in a way that convinces anyone else. In spite of all the heat and emotion and name-calling the controversy continues. Advocates of same-sex marriage can’t get the people who hold to traditional understandings of sexual ethics to curl up and die. Conservatives can’t get the gay marriage advocates to shut up or go away.

This controversy has served for a long time as a wedge issue. It divides the conservatives from the liberals. It determines, for many people, who is worth listening to — and who isn’t.

And, the controversy just keeps going — honestly, it’s like moths drawn to a flame. We can’t stop reading about it, writing about it, getting mad about it….

Whenever I post on homosexuality I always get a lot of traffic. A little while ago I dashed off an “Obligatory Homosexuality Post” just to acknowledge some current controversies about homosexuality in the United Methodist Church and to point out the UMC’s long history of inconsistent enforcement — much of it regionally based. The post quickly became the most popular thing I wrote that week. All I was saying is that the current provisions of the United Methodist Disciple are going to be very hard to enforce in the current climate of the church. Really, they always have been.

And I said this:

The homosexuality issue touches off deep anxiety and anger and outrage. As I understand it, the Murray Bowen theory suggests that such anxiety touches off certain primitive emotional responses: fight, flight, freeze, protect. So, there you have it, folks: the United Methodist homosexuality controversy.

The anger and anxiety are operating on both the denominational level and the local church level. Alexander Griswold of the conservative IRD notes the connection between strong advocacy of LGBTQ issues by local church pastors, and the decline of the churches they serve: Renegade UMC Pastors See Congregations Dwindle. I’m sure he’s right in noting that trend. But, I’m also sure there are churches that have resisted the preaching of very dogmatic and judgmental pastors who have preached against homosexuality, as well. That may not be as pronounced a phenomenon. But, we are now a culture where more and more gays and lesbians are “out” — people now know them as their relatives, friends and co-workers (or themselves) — rather than members of some theoretical group with a nefarious “agenda.” My guess is that the current unrest in the United Methodist denomination is causing losses from all sides.

So, how do we get past our instinctive anxiety regarding this?

I can only tell you what I do. I imagine myself as a man who is exclusively attracted to people of my own gender. That is quite a stretch since I have absolutely no sexual attraction to guys, and don’t even find them (as a gender) especially interesting. But, I try to find my position in this controversy as a gay man. If I were a gay man, this would not be a choice an my part, but a condition. It is not something I have chosen, it is a perspective on life and on people. I try to imagine who I would be if this were the case.

homosexuality_photo_in_cyberIf I were a same-sex attracted person, and if I held to my present understanding of Christian sexual ethics, I would be a man who was committed to living a celibate life. I would affirm the traditional Christian understanding of marriage and I would take seriously the strongly-worded condemnations of same-gender sex in the Bible. (Of course, these are conditioned by the times in which they were written — as is everything in the Bible — but I would want to make some sort of sense of them. The fact that the condemnations are strongly worded and are present in both the Old and New Testaments — even though they would have been somewhat counter-cultural in their day — would cause me to want to take them seriously.)

This little mental exercise helps me to situate myself in the debate. It helps me to see the issue from the inside instead of the outside. It lowers the temperature of the issue for me. It helps me remember that the issue is not keeping gays and lesbians out of the church — in fact, it clarifies to me that I need to be actively concerned about extending hospitality to all kinds of people.

As a matter of fact, I have gay and lesbian friends. I have heard some of them talk about their lives and their faith struggles (which are really not especially different than anyone else’s — except for the nature of their un-chosen sexual attractions.)

It helps me to understand the people who choose same-sex marriage. While this is a choice my imagined self would not make, I can certainly understand why people would. And, I can understand why they would want the legal standing and legal rights and protections accorded to other people in similarly committed relationships.

I guess it doesn’t solve anything, but it does take me out of the realm of knee jerk reactions. I simply ask myself how I would want to be treated if I were a gay person.

It doesn’t mean that same-gender sex isn’t a moral issue. As far as I can tell, the traditional case against same-gender sex still makes sense on a theoretical level. Obviously, I could be wrong. But, until I am convinced I am wrong, I have to go with what seems to be correct. Sure. But, I always need to remember that my primary calling is to love God with all my heart mind and strength and to love my neighbor as myself. When I start reacting in a way that hinders my ability to love, something is wrong.

 

Comments (25) | Trackback

25 Responses to “How I Situate Myself in the Homosexuality Debate”

  1. Ross says:

    As far as I am concerned it all comes under the heading of sin. Sinners need to be saved and our task is not to pick out one variety and debate on it. Jesus died for Homosexuals just the same as He died for liars or those who hate. I respond to all sinners the same way, doing what I can to help them to see their need of Jesus.

    • Well, certainly we are all sinners and we need forgiveness and salvation. It helps me to have clarity about what the sin is — it is same-gender sex itself that is condemned in Scripture. What causes same-gender desires I do not know. We do know — whatever causes it — that it is not changeable in most cases. If I can’t identify myself with the celibate gay Christian — whom much of the church (I think) doesn’t really want to have around — I’m not looking at this the right way. If I were a Christian with same-gender desires, how would I want to be treated? Certainly I would want to be told the truth of what the Scriptures say. But, I would also need a lot of support and understanding on what might turn out to be a rather lonely road.

  2. Niles L. Thompson says:

    I don’t believe the issue World Vision hire a person in a same-sex relationship. The issue is World Vision had to announce they hired a person in a same-sex relationship. Why? Do they announce that hired a person in a heterosexual relationship!

    • If they hadn’t announced the policy change, I think it would have been leaked anyway — which might have been worse (if that’s possible). My understanding is that they have always had some strict policies about who they do and do not hire.

  3. Dave says:

    HI Craig,

    I sort of understand a Christian Organization’s desire to hire people that adhere to a certain code of conduct. The question of course is which core values to put in such a code of conduct. In this case … for example … it appears that divorce and remarriage get a free pass while same sex marriage does not. This appears to be a very hypocritical stance since not all Christian denominations believe the same thing in this area yet no one is opting to pull out of WV because of differences along these lines. WV is not a church .. it is an organization that has employees from many different denominations.

    Additionally … WV’s in different countries do not follow the same policies … For example … WV of Canada has no such prohibition … see: https://www.worldvision.ca/CUSTOMERSERVICE/Pages/Hiring-Practices.aspx

    And I have heard that New Zealand also does not have any such prohibition though I cannot find a link to prove that point. This makes the whole thing look a bit odd as WV’s policies are not consistent from one country to the next. It also makes it look like American Christianity is especially hostile to lgbt folks.

    God bless,

    Dave

  4. Kathy Rosser says:

    Uggg. I am a gay Christian woman. I am in a same-sex marriage. I was a preacher’s kid and I am very active in my UMC church. My wife and I don’t want to give up on the UMC, and we hope that they will change their stance in the BOD. We couldn’t be married in our own church with the congregation that loves us. I am saddened that some folks would sacrifice helping children (WV) to uphold their theological ideology about homosexuals. As far as sin goes, homosexuality is not a sin – it’s an identity forged and blessed by God. Also, I am offended by the term “practicing homosexual”. Are you a “practicing heterosexual”? If one is “practicing” then that is the same sin as sex out of wedlock. Not allowing gays to marry seals their fate in that respect.

    • Thanks for stopping by and leaving a comment, Kathy. There is no reason to think that the United Methodist Church will change its Disciplinary stance on this issue — though it is remotely possible that the denomination might split on the issue — a move which would be tragic in its own way. My informal and totally unofficial observation is that congregations — even some quite conservative ones — are finding ways to include gay and lesbians folks in their congregations in spite of the fact that no widespread agreement on the issue can be reached. This is one where “agree to disagree” doesn’t seem officially acceptable — but the local church still has to find ways to include and love and support all who seek to serve Christ. And, my observation is that many churches are doing just that — whether they understand or agree or not. And, may God have mercy on us all.

  5. Kathy Rosser says:

    Dear Mr. Adams – I want you to know that my comments are not directed at you. I liked your article and I appreciate that fact that you try to put yourself in other’s shoes. My rant is toward the situation at large. This all makes me so sad.

  6. d says:

    To assume “children will go hungry” if World Vision is no more is a little arrogant.
    There are thousands of charities that feed children world wide.
    Most, if not all churches have outreach programs to feed the poor and there are many new outreach programs being birthed everyday by churches that have split over the issue.
    These new denominations form partnerships worldwide to feed, house,clothe,and educate persons that are more in tune with their understanding of what God requires.

    Christians not only have right but a responsibility to donate their funds to orgs. that they feel best fits the Christian vision and they have a plethora of groups to choose from.

    • Rachel Held Evans actually makes a pretty good point in this regard – sure, children can be fed through some other agency, but these particular children/families/communities will lose aid and a personal connection (through letter writing), at least in the short term. That matters.

      We could also quibble about whether more, smaller agencies and/or new start-ups results in equivalent or improved outcomes. If that is in fact the outcome, based on concepts like start-up costs and economies of scale there’s good reason to think that isn’t necessarily so. But really that’s just an aside.

  7. Melany Chalker says:

    Very well done Craig. I always learn so much from you and offer you my utmost respect. It is so very difficult to even jump in the ring of conversation. I am always so surprised that no one is having a passionate, world wide conversation on judging, hating, gluttony, or starving children. Just sad.

    • Thanks, Melany. People have a hard time talking about sexuality. Yes, the conversation is often so heated that it is difficult to participate. But, at one point, a long time ago, I noticed that I was part of the problem. And, I wondered to myself: why do I get so upset about this (something I don’t even find tempting) and not other things? That’s when I started seeking out people who could help me understand what was going on with me. That’s around the time I got involved in the (now defunct) Bridges Across the Divide conversation. This is the same Internet conversation that Justin Lee writes about in his book. Some very patient (and some not-so-patient) gay and lesbian people helped me see things in a somewhat different way — and helped me understand how things looked from their perspective. It helped defuse the issue for me, though it didn’t change my mind on a more fundamental level.

  8. Michael Scalora says:

    Thanks Craig. As always, thoughtful and honest with an easily perceived commitment to the Gospel and the scripture that informs and shapes our faith journey. Thanks.

  9. Chad Holtz says:

    I agree to that Craig. If the church could stop fighting about the sinfulness of the matter perhaps we could get back to doing what really matters. In a comment on Adam Hamilton’s blog today about assumptions, I said this, which I think ties in with your comment here:

    I think we have made an idol out of marriage, and have refused to believe that God is enough. I know celibate gay men and women who are full of joy as they walk in obedience with God. They have a powerful testimony about what it means to truly pick up your cross and follow Jesus. I think we tarnish their witness when we perpetuate the lie that says God doesn’t really care, and that God’s main concern is our “happiness” rather than our “holiness.” To the Christopher Yuan’s and others of this world, it is a slap in the face to tell them their sacrifice is unnecessary. What we ought to be doing, instead, is figuring out ways to better be the church – the body and family of God – to lift up, support, love and encourage those who choose to be obedient to God’s commands rather than the culture’s acquiescence.

    • If by “the church” you mean the United Methodist Church, I have no expectation whatsoever that it will “stop fighting about the sinfulness of the matter” — however desirable that might be. But, really, the UMC is only one small slice of the Church, anyway. (Once upon a time the UMC was my world. It sure isn’t anymore.)

      And, I certainly agree that the issue is our “holiness” first and not simply our “happiness.” John Wesley taught that holiness was the only true happiness.

      • Chad Holtz says:

        I don’t think we will stop fighting on that either. I believe a split is the only, and best, recourse.

        I like what you say in the article here about understanding gay people and their desire to marry, and why they would. One thing I need to do better at making clear in my writing is that my aim is not at gay people but pastors. The bigger sin, IMO, is how those who are meant to be shepherds are saying “peace, peace” when there is no peace, and offering only superficial healing which circumvents the power of God.

  10. Meredith Rupe says:

    As always, well said Craig. I ask myself often: Why has homosexuality become the number one sin of our time? Why at this time in church history has it become so? I do not find evidence of it being such a hot topic of discussion among those who have gone before us. I have mentioned this before to you. I have some commentaries that go back to the Civil War days and none of them even talk about homosexuality for the verses so widely quoted today. It has only been in the ones published in the last 50 years that any comments are made. Why? If this is the number one sin why didn’t our forebearers see it as so? Maybe you have access to resources from church history that I don’t have. “As long as we can point to someone else’s sin as being worse than ours we are able to distract others from our sin.” A diversionary tactic. Who says that the church does not talk about sex? Maybe we do, but in a very unhealthy way.

    I am not a supporter of WV. Since I served on the Board of Directors of UMCOR I kind of see them sapping money away from denominational service agencies who can deliver the services with less over head expenses. OGHS is coming up this week. I also dislike their use of children to raise their funds. Their current argument about dropping sponsorships is in the same vane of using vulnerable children. There is also deception with many of the letters people receive–not all or most. You and I had a friend who was a missionary who told me that WV would put so much pressure on them that a group of the staff would sit down and write the letters. The reality is that some of the kids could not write a letter in English. But I admire their courage to take such a step.

    Keep your thought provoking ideas coming.

    • Thanks for your comments, Meredith. It seems like this is all a conservative Christian response to ideas that were unleashed by the Sexual Revolution — and, the drama is not anywhere close to playing itself out.

      I absolutely agree with you that the preferred relief agency for United Methodists is UMCOR.

  11. Laura L. Salguero says:

    As a long time supporter of World Vision, I know they are a genuine Christian organization who does wonderful work in the developing world. In my opinion, anyone who would withdraw their support for a desperately poor child because of the hiring practices of this organization is not a true Christian. They should be ashamed of themselves! This is the most ridiculous thing I have ever heard. I would never go to a church with members who would put their hatred and bigotry over the welfare of a child. Furthermore, if I feel this way at age 59, how do you think that younger people feel?

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