This Sunday's paper featured extensive coverage of the first same-sex couple ordained to ministry in the Presbyterian Church U.S.A (PC U.S.A.). This ordination took place at First and Central in Wilmington. The article conveyed, either by assertion or implication, that the blessing of a same-sex union is more Christlike and more in accord with the original Hebrew and Greek texts of Scripture than the global and historic consensus of Protestant, Roman Catholic and Orthodox Churches that such a practice is contrary to God's Word.
I have already been asked about this event and the article that covered it. I suspect that I will be asked again since we are Presbyterians, though of a different denomination (The Presbyterian Church in America was established in 1973). Our own congregation left the Presbyterian Church of the Unites Stated (PCUS, an antecedent to the PC U.S.A.) in 1937 over issues of Biblical fidelity, but a lot of people don't know our history or our views on these matters. So, I wanted to make some observations about the article and suggest some additional resources for your perusal.
- A Close Study Bolsters the Historic Consensus of the Church--It is false to assert that studying the text in the original language reveals that we have misunderstood or twisted the teaching of Scripture on sexuality. I have studied all the relevant texts in the original languages, taking note of the literary and historical contexts and reading opposing views. Such a study only bolsters the historical consensus of the church that marriage is between one man and one woman, and that all sexual acts outside of the bond of marriage (heterosexuals take note as well!) are forbidden. The reason is because God intends the sexual union to image something specific and powerful about the relationship between Christ and the Church. Sexuality is ultimately not about mere pleasure, but about a pleasure orchestrated by God to testify to his glory and purpose in Christ.
- Jesus Christ Does Not Relax the Bible's Sexual Ethic--It is false to assert that it is more Christlike to embrace same sex unions or homosexual sex. Speaking of the Bible's moral law, Jesus declares in the Sermon on the Mount that "whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven" (Matt 5:19). Jesus affirms all the moral law of the Old Testament, including its sexual ethic. He explicitly affirms that marriage is between one man and one woman (Matt 19:3-6).
- The Church Has At Times Failed to Respond in Line with the Gospel--Frequently the church has chosen to speak more harshly about homosexual sexual sin than heterosexual sexual sin. There is often less sympathy and understanding for those who struggle with same-sex desires. Paul makes it very clear that there were former practicing homosexuals in the church at Corinth. Apparently folks in the church at Corinth could have loving gospel conversations with practicing homosexuals, because some of them were saved from that lifestyle and brought into the church. Sadly, we often cannot say the same. Homosexual sin is not the unpardonable sin. One benefit of our present cultural moment is that churches are having to address their hypocrisy and lack of love when it comes to upholding the Bible's sexual ethic. If one could tally up all the sin in the world then there would be exponentially more heterosexual sexual sin than homosexual sexual sin. God sees all the sin in our midst. There is no place for pride or arrogance among convinced heterosexuals. Our attitudes and actions have not reflected this reality.
- Loving Community is Needed--Those who struggle with same-sex desires need the love and support of the church. They need trusted friends with whom they can share their struggle. (The same is true of those who struggle with heterosexual desires.) Those who have embraced a homosexual lifestyle need to experience faithful Christians who will love them and welcome them as friends. Not everyone will want such a relationship, but for those who do it can be the means of breaking down hurtful stereotypes, building friendship, and opening hearts to the love of God in Christ.
- We Cannot Omit the Call to Discipleship--The American Church has tended to downplay Jesus's call to deny oneself, take up one's cross and follow Him. We have emphasized that Christ offers an abundant life, while downplaying that this abundant life includes a painful and agonizing struggle against sin. It is painful to resist sexual sin. It hurts down to our very bones at times. Being alone can be nice at times. But chronic loneliness is agonizing. If gospel preaching fails to make clear the cost of discipleship then folks will feel something has gone terribly wrong when their Christian life becomes painful. This poses problems for convinced heterosexuals as well as those struggling with same-sex desires. For some believers, their whole lives will be marked by intense struggle.
- We Should Admit Failure and Uphold the Truth at the Same Time--Don't waste time being defensive about the Church's failures. Admit them. God hasn't failed, but His Church has failed many times. We too often fail to obey the very Word of God that we are called to herald to the world. So, we had better be humble. At the same time, it is the call of the Church to make the truth of the gospel and the Word of God plain. So we had better tell the truth. It is foolish to be proud and defensive. It is not loving to fail to tell the truth when called upon to do so.
I'd like to recommend three resources that are well worth investing in.
- The Bible and Homosexual Practice, by Robert Gagnon--Dr. Robert Gagnon, a PCUSA minister and scholar, has written a comprehensive volume on this subject. It is a 500 page book that covers all the relevant texts and contexts in great detail. It is surprisingly readable, and summary sections are accessible and clear if you don't have the time to go through every text. Gagnon is a Biblical scholar and approaches these texts in the original languages. I have read this book and it is excellent.
- What Does the Bible Really Teach About Homosexuality, by Kevin DeYoung--This book is due to be on shelves by April 30, 2015. DeYoung is thoughtful, succinct, Biblical and winsome. I eagerly anticipate what he has to contribute to this discussion.
- The Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert, by Rosaria Butterfield--Butterfield was a tenured, lesbian literature professor living with her partner when God saved her. This book tells the story of how God used the love and hospitality of a pastor and his wife to minister to her.
May God grant us wisdom, love and faithfulness in responding to our neighbors around these issues. Walking faithfully will require great humility and love. God will not fail to teach us and sustain us as we seek to be faithful to Him.