Good afternoon, everyone –
So, here I thought that last week’s message on suffering brought a lot of questions.
Turns out it was NOTHING compared to this week!
Seems like we’re onto something that lots of you are mulling over.
The question you asked me to preach on was “Why are there so many homophobic people in the Church?”
And then came questions that you submitted after the service via paper & email….
“Is it easy for us to pick on homosexuality because it is visible, while other very destructive ones (like gossip) are more acceptable?”
If we take the traditional reading of Romans 1, for example, most people tend to focus on the verses that consign homosexuals to eternal doom. However, we grow silent about the verses that follow – which speak of gossip and other patterns of behaviour. Why is that?
Oh, we justify them easily. “We’re not gossiping. We’re just concerned / sharing / etc.”
Meanwhile a person’s reputation is damaged or twisted and a life potentially ruined.
Because of wagging of the tongue.
Hey, ever noticed that when a person starts “grading” sins as if they were eggs – bigger and smaller ones – somehow the stuff that is problematic for them gets graded as less of a sin than stuff that is a problem for others?
“Is homosexuality really the most damaging of sexual sins, the way it sometimes seems to be made out to be? What about adultery? Or incest? Or rape?”
Very good question. Judging from the way some of us (older) ones talk (that includes me) homosexuality seems to be the biggest sexual problem around. But thanks for challenging that.
Based on my ministry experience the others that you name are far more damaging.
Adultery – shattering at least one, often two, homes and extended families. What bothers me is how socially acceptable this one has become. It is devastating!
Incest and rape – causing great inner spiritual and emotional trauma to the survivors for years, maybe even a lifetime. Marriages are affected. Precious children of God wrestle with crippled self-esteem, flashbacks, nightmares and anxiety attacks. Horrible stuff.
Compare that to the quiet lesbian couple that lives in our neighborhood….. Hmmm.
Thanks for your challenge.
“My cousin is in a same sex relationship (married). He is a pastor. Many people are blessed by his work in the congregation. Is this grace?”
Seems to be. I’ve said it of my own ministry, “The Lord seems to be very capable of shooting straight with a very crooked stick.” If he can bless others with an imperfect believer and sinner like myself, who am I to say that he can’t do the same with others? In Mark 9:38-41 the disciples want to shut down the ministry of someone casting out demons in Jesus’ name, because he wasn’t part of the group. Jesus stops them. Or think of any one of a number of Old Testament stories, where God uses outsiders to do His work. Because something doesn’t fit my categories, doesn’t mean God can’t and won’t be at work there, anyway. His grace is far bigger than my understanding.
“It seems that mercy & grace are rare commodities. Lord, have mercy & grace on us. We need it so badly.”
“How can we grow in such a way that we can be better at serving, listening, and treating others with respect – so extending grace to them?”
Practice. Practice. Practice.
Begin simple. Like driving for cancer or the hospital or meals on wheels.
And stretch from there to more challenging settings.
Always be sure to be serving somewhere. If your life is only about doing what makes you happy, or fulfils you, it is tracking in the wrong way. My dad says, “I know it is a good day when I’ve helped at least one person.” That’s a model for me.
And – when it comes to the listening thing, I can’t recall who said, “God gave us two ears and one mouth. Use them that way.” Good advice.
“Can homosexuals make profession of faith?”
Yes, absolutely. The CRC synod of 1973 affirmed this – they can serve in local congregations, be office bearers, participate fully. However, we call them as we do all single people, to live chaste and celibate lives. Synod also calls congregations to provide a network of support and intimacy and care for such people. We cannot, Synod reminds us, call them to pure singleness and then walk away, leaving them incredibly lonely. So – how well do we serve the singles in our community in offering them friendship and support?
“So, if we meet someone who is struggling with their sexual orientation, how do we encourage them in a God-pleasing way?”
How did Jesus behave when around people whose lives were a struggle? That would be my guide, as an apprentice of his. Seems to me that he focused on building relationships with them, first of all. And then in the context of that relationship, he was able to speak truth into their lives. We have a track record as Christians in Canada of being perhaps too quick to speak pronouncements without getting to know people personally first (remember: hand-heart-head….)
“How may the sexual revolution of the last 50 years have shaped the thoughts/position of the Church or Christians on this question?”
I’m not sure. I think that if we’re honest we all have to admit that our thinking is shaped, to one degree or another, by the culture around us. That’s always been the case. It is hard to step clear from culture as we read Scripture. I can’t speak for other church groups, but CAN say that all Christian Reformed leaders whom I’ve met seem very intent on trying to understand Scripture’s call in the clearest and most obedient way possible. We really do want God, and not the opinions of others, to drive our thinking.
What is very interesting to me is that people over 50 seem to have a much harder position on this issue than those under 50; by and large anyway. We older folks are willing to get all in a lather over it. The younger ones – not so much. The question is – which response is more culturally shaped? That’s open for debate, I think.
“What about Jesus saying to the woman caught in adultery, ‘go and sin no more’? Based on Romans 1 & 1 Cor 6 isn’t homosexual practice a sin?”
So – I was raised with an understanding of the original languages in Romans 1 & 1 Cor 6 that, indeed, would peg homosexual practice of all sorts and shapes as sin. Period. I was also trained with the understanding that homosexuality was a learned behaviour, and could be changed. That’s how we were prepared to minister in the parish. It was common thinking in the mid-80’s. That thinking also is what has shaped the CRC’s standing position on homosexuality – that the orientation is not sinful, but that acting on the impulse is.
In the years since, people are asking for a new denominational study to be done on this issue, because:
a. social science has shown, and even Christian ministries to homosexuals have admitted, that it is not a personal choice. People are born this way. And change is virtually impossible.
b. study of the ancient languages has cast into doubt some of the iron-clad understandings of Romans 1 & 1 Cor 6 as being definitively against all homosexuality wherever and however. Some of this revolves around the word choice that St.Paul employs in the passages. He chooses an incredibly obscure word for homosexual activity – it seems he may have invented the word. And the question is “why”? Why not use one of the many available very clear words of the day? What message is the Holy Spirit giving through Paul? The experts are in hot debate about all this at a level far above my ability to judge. I hope and pray for clear thinking among our scholars to help give guidance to the rest of us. However, this much I take away from it all – I’m wanting to be careful to get as worked up as I would have 10 years ago, when I thought it actually pretty straight forward and simple, lest I be shown in a few years from now to have taken my own preconceptions, personal gender biases, and incomplete readings of Scripture and formed judgemental opinions that were NOT in accord with God’s full Will.