Sunday, October 16, 2005

Evangelical Churches: Homosexuality, Hypocrisy and Heterosexism

Aaron Van Luven’s talking about a recent Time Magazine article, “The Battle Over Gay Teens.” From an evangelical perspective he asks,

How are we dealing with it? What are your individual responses to homosexuals? What do you see the church doing right/wrong? What can we do better? Why is it such an easy issue to sweep under the rug? Is our current method of "reaching out" to those [with a] homosexual bent really accomplishing a furthered righteousness and the kingdom of God or rather [alienating a] disenfranchised and lost people who will find acceptance and worth from another source?
This is an excellent question. I’ve been feeling like a rumble myself, so I’ve decided to take it on in this space as well.

In regard to the usual evangelical stance on the issue, I have three major questions that I believe present considerable challenges to the way churches see and speak to persons of a homosexual persuasion.

The Rules

Like Aaron, I will not countenance at this moment a discussion about what the Scriptures say and just what we are to do with that. For the sake of a more limited scope to the argument, I think we would do better to stand in the conservative evangelical perspective for this one. Please stay on topic. I will offer three installments over the course of this week, in which I discuss three major problems with the positive witness of evangelicals in this area. I will participate in debate in the comments section. Sometime next week I’ll offer my own ideas on how evangelical churches should deal with the issue, and a week after that, I’ll write an entry on how my own viewpoints have been challenged, changed or affirmed by the discussion.

First, if you know me and perhaps if you’ve been reading my writings for awhile, you know that I love the Church: Jesus and the People who comprise his Body, the new community of God. These will all be questions that I’ve asked myself before asking other Christians. This is not a rant or a finger pointing session. I would find that boring, besides.

Second, let’s remember who we are: the Church of Jesus Christ is a broken, sinful people who are being raised up and redeemed through mystical and sacramental union with the Lord and one another. However, moral perfection is not a prerequisite to offering challenge and a prophetic voice to the world at large. It is the place of those who bear the continuing Incarnation of God into the world to bear witness to his healing and resurrecting power in the midst of entropy and death. We bear witness and heal. We have no place condemning anybody, because nobody has a claim on God because of their faith or morality or any other stupid, supposed qualification.

With these things in mind, I maintain that a people who cannot call themselves to a “traditional Christian sexual ethic” don’t yet have any business preaching on it to other people. If they do, they are hypocrites in the plain sense, holding one set of standards for themselves, and a stricter one for other people. Mind you, people sin, people fall. Living one’s life in a sinful posture is another matter. According to that aforementioned traditional line of Christian thought (and sadly, a popular bumper sticker), marriage is God’s plan for one man and one woman for a lifetime. The earliest sources in the Scriptures seem to indicate that Jesus did not consider divorce to be an option for any reason. The Matthean version allows it for adultery – the work of an editor.

Strangely, to be divorced and remarried while remaining in the fellowship of an evangelical church is fairly commonplace. How can this be? Lots of folks offer the apologia that people must be allowed to repent of the things that had destroyed previous relationships and move on. I agree, but if they aren’t moving on in celibacy, they’re violating God’s clear intent for marriage as expressed in the Bible.

If we will be so much more liberal than Jesus on these matters, claiming that an invalid marriage (at least in biblical terms) can be blessed by God and operate within his redemptive action in peoples’ lives, why in the world do we not apply the same logic to homosexual unions?

It sounds thoughtlessly heterosexist at best, and hypocritical at worst.

The Pantocrator

Tuesday: Making Sense of Celibacy


+ simonas said...

hi kyle,
i guess i will the be first to comment. two questions. well, one comment and one question:
1) as in regards to your statement, "Mind you, people sin, people fall", i find a difference. some people would call homoxesual behaviour sinful and strive for a redemptive lifestyle, while others would point at the hyporcricy of the critics. i believe you are right about critiquing evangelicals about OUR hypocricy, but why say that sinful (i read that in romans) behaviour should be a norm? i guess that ended up to be a question as well... hm...

2) why the reproduction of the pantocrator attached to this entry? creator of homosexuals? hm... i guess so... "go and sin no more" still...

peace to your house.

Kyle said...

Thanks for responding, good Simonas.

My point in regard to "sinful lifestyles" as such is to question why churches choose to ignore some sinful lifestyles and not others? If a preacher can say, "I know I shouldn't be fifty pounds overweight, but...," why isn't that fodder for a little crusading?

But that's a minor bit. I think you bring out what might be a helpful distinction: must everything that is allowed as permissible be de facto held up as a norm? It's all well and good to say to heterosexuals, "divorce is bad and remarriage is bad, but you're gonna do what you're gonna do, so we're not gonna call you to a truly costly discipleship."

These churches say to divorcees, "this is not the ideal, but the community as a whole has mercy on your weakness and can hold you in the fellowship regardless of this."

Why not the same to homosexual persons?

The gaze of the Pantocrator reminds us that Christ is the ultimate authority to whom everyone must answer.

+ Alan said...

The gaze of the Pantocrator reminds us that Christ is the ultimate authority to whom everyone must answer.

He is indeed. I listen with interest. That, it seems, ends up in many cases to be the question: if we know that we, or some, or all, are weak in certain ways, do we then make allowance for that by saying, "we know you're going to do that, so we'll go ahead and bless it and set that part aside."

I know all who argue for a normal "Christian homosexuality" don't argue from exactly that viewpoint, but I fear the logical connections are such that if we go back far enough, this is where it begins.

I do agree that there is a shite-load of hypocrisy going on in the Church about the subject as it relates to other things. It does need to be looked at seriously and rethought.

And I need to lose some weight! Seriously. I am guilty there, fat rather.

Pax vobiscum Kyle - good talking to you tonight.

#Debi said...

"...if they aren’t moving on in celibacy, they’re violating God’s clear intent for marriage as expressed in the Bible."

I'm a bit confused here, genuinely so. As you know, I am a divorced person. That was 19 years ago (the divorce), and during the marriage I was at best a marginal Christian. My ex was not a believer, and has remarried. At least since the time that I made a genuine commitment to Christ (about 14 years ago or so), I have lived the celibate life that you mentioned. That's all just for background info. Just so I know where you are coming from--do you believe that I should be pursuing reconciliation with my ex? Keep in mind that he is remarried and has children in that marriage. Do you believe that I should never consider remarrying myself? Is that what you mean by the above statement? Not that I'm looking really, just wanted to be clear in what your views on this subject are...

Expax said...

Hey Kyle it might be good in this series or another for you to post your theology of marriage and divorce. 'Cause we might have some variances here?

Simple questions for you:
* Is scripture "the" source which we draw dogma? If so, or even partly, do we draw it from the authorative canon or from the original documents? I tend to go for canonical authority.

* So we are talking of marriage? Does it dissolve at death (or divorce)? What are your opinions of the Catholic or Orthodox views on these matters?

* How do we weigh the church fathers with scripture? Specificly over these matters. Justin the Matyr is quite strong in saying that under no condition is one to remarry. Yet we have the comment in Matthew about porneia. Whom do we side with... church tradition or canon authority? Tough question.

Just some randon thoughts from the Finger.

Kyle said...

As everyone knows, of course, Captain Sacrament does not have washboard abs. But one day...!

Alan, I think you get my point. I don't even think that in all (or necessarily many) cases that the blessing is there, implicitly or otherwise, but there is often an attitude of "we're going to ignore this, and try not to think about what a thoroughly consistant sexual ethic would demand of us."

It's exactly those logical connections that I'm talking about.

Keeping with that, Debi, I don't think you should go looking for your ex (and his kids or his deeply ironic cat). I also don't happen to think that you are "disqualified" from remarriage.

If my interpretive principle did insist that there is a divine will for marriage that can never be put aside or amended for any reason, a consistent application of it would mean that divorcees cannot remarry, and that homosexuals have a de facto "call" to celibacy. Rather, both groups of people have that "call' -- that requirement.

Evangelicals like to maintain that interpretive principle, but only apply it to homosexuals, and not to heterosexuals. I question the consistency, and therefore the integrity of such a position.

Either call both to holy celibacy, or say to both groups what we say to the one: "This is not God's original intent, but even as we move into his redemption, the effects of the Fall on some individual lives make celibacy an intolerable burden rather than a gift and vocation, so we will not require of it." Ki

Kyle said...

The last bit got cut off: I said, "Kind of like a pastoral "suspension" of the rules. But I'll talk more about celibacy, and whether it's really an "intolerable burden" tomorrow.


I admit that I've never sat down to sort out my personal theology (what a heretical phrase!) regarding marriage and divorce, but these are the questions I'm asking about it, in the context of what I think is the "normal" pop evangelical thought about it.

Regarding your questions:

I don't think scripture is the only source for our teaching and practice as the Christian Community, because as such it would be incomplete: it's not a rulebook for living. We can extrapolate its principles and transmission of the apostolic witness to all areas of life, but to straight up pull everything from it, I think is very difficult.

I don't know what the official catholic or orthodox views are, but I know that Jesus said "what God has joined, do not put asunder." But we do. I happen to think there are good, godly reasons for that, but that it should be the exception, not the norm. And that all of our exceptions should be logically consistent.

Regarding your last point, not that in this matter, the Canon is no more unified than a chorus of other early Christian writers. Mark says no, Matthew says sometimes, and Justin agrees with Mark. Do we take a vote? Heck, no. We talk it out, pray and seek the face of the Lord, and choose to do the compassionate, redemptive thing, which may not look exactly like what the Justin or the composers of Matthew or Mark had in mind.

#Debi said...

Thanks, Kyle. I rather thought that was where you were going, but wanted clarification. It was great talking to you last night.

+ Alan said...

Continues to be interesting. I'd say we need to watch out that the Bible doesn't become for us a collection of the varying opinions of men. It would be all manner of useless if that were so. So, if Matthew seems to say something different than Luke of John, then why are we not looking at different pieces of a puzzle that make up a whole? This does not make us fundamentalist and technical "innerantists" I don't think.

I heard, as a sort of connected rabbit-trail, one well known New Testament and Greek scholar say once that the "pornea" referred to in Matthew's Gospel was not "adultery" at all, but in keeping with what Jesus had already said, He was referring to a marriage that was entered into outside of God and was therefore, no marriage at all for it was "pornea" = "of the flesh" and not of the spirit. It was something that "man had joined together" and not God. So, we'd have a "marriage" that is not really a "marriage." In that case, the breaking of such a union would not be a divorce since there was no marriage to begin with.

Interesting take on it. There are problems with all views that have to be worked out in order to be logically consistent, but interesting. I know we've gotten off on the marriage thing Kyle, but it does seem as if you're really talking more about consistency and integrity rather than just about the homosexuals.

The consistency is messed up quite a bit in both areas - marriage and homosexuality. Scripture, Tradition, reason and experience (with a high measure of suspicion on that last one) - all in the context of community. And you see which ones I capitalized. Peace and Wisdom to us all.

Expax said...

Hey Kyle thanx for your response your response. However you did succesfully avoid one question... do we work from the original documents or the canonical selection? As we allow scripture as a means of measure, what form of scripture chosen plays significant in this process.

TO butcher the catholic and orthodox points on marriage... the Catholics tend to say that marriage is dissolved at the death of an individual, where as the Orthodox tend to say that marriage is continued into all of eternity.

Kyle said...


I'd not heard that bit about pornea before, and it sound sensible. I've heard it asserted also that there's little scholarly consensus about just what he meant by pornea, but that's scholarship for you. ;0)

It sounds reasonable at any rate, and I can actually get behind such a practice: after all, marriage is a Christian sacrament, to be offered by the Church, not performed by the state or an individual. Do you know if the RC practice of annulment works from a similar kind of idea?

And you're right: consistency and integrity are the issues here.


I frankly do not understand your question. Of course we don't work from original documents, unless of course you have some extant copies of the NT that date to the first century rolled up in your sock drawer. Even if you did, I don't see your point. Even if you had Q in your sock drawer, I don't see the point.

Expax said...

Let me rehash what I have been trying to say. (Granted I am not the best communicator). You made reference in regards to the matthian text. "The Matthean version allows it for adultery – the work of an editor." Now my question is when working with the text in guiding theology do we take what was canonized or do we attempt to go back to the earliest of documents? I am just trying to figure out where do you lay when it comes to working with scripture. I am simply pursuing this to help me come to a greater understanding of your views.

Anonymous said...

Nice entry Kyle, definately adds context to your comments on Aarons. How we "deal" with homosexuality has become such a slippery slope. We need to be consistent in our teaching and living "sin free" lifestyles. It is just as bad to fornicate witih someone of the opposite sex as it is someone the same, but here is why I believe the church is failing at reaching those prone to homosexuality.

1. For the most part, from personal experience, I see the church treating homosexuals appropiately. With love, and desire to reconcile. But it is nearly impossible to explain to someone that Christ loves them and despises their sin. In normal cases it's easy to understand, but homosexuality has become so much about a person's identity, it's hard to tell a person God loves you, but hates your sin. . because this particular sin has become an issue of identity that person cannot seperate God's love for them, and His hate for their sin.. because. . to quote, "that's just who I am. . I'm gay" get it?

2. As such, the gay person cannot find acceptance in a community where they feel hated, and not respected, so they will look elsewhere. . .we see it all the time, and as soon as they get their support from their communities it seems as though they are as good as lost. It becomes harder and harder to cut through all the "acceptance" they've been offered.

3. In response to this, the church has done one of two things, .. both are extreme and obviously not the answer. They either renounce their doctrine concerning homosexuality and welcome the lifestyle as a healthy alternative, some even ordaining their homosexuals. Or.. . they preach a strong, very strong message against the homosexual lifestyle. (very few do this, and the ones that do get a lot of attention. . and they also become a convenient excuse for many homosexuals not to go to church)

4. there has to be a way to show someone who has these tendencies that they do not have to create their entire identity around their sexuality. If we can't get them to seperate their struggle with who they really are, then we will continue to fail at redeeming these lost ones.

It's not about tolerance, it's not about compassion even. . it's mostly about identity we have to pray for God to show us a way to reveal their true identity, that way they know that their sin does not define them.

Kyle said...


Since I don't consider the Bible to be an instruction book or handbook of any kind - not for life, not for theology, not for nothing - I have no desire to take a finished product and legislate it.

When we read the Scriptures and do theology, we can't just ignore the development work that's in the text itself. Simply seeking to reconcile contradictory texts so that we can pretend there's a unified voice is disingenuous. So rather than saying, "The Bible says..." I say, "Jesus had him some strict views on marriage, and one part of the Church eased up a little but not much." And while we've got to work within the meaning of the scriptures, it is notable that they've gone before us in lightening things up a bit.


Thanks for joining the discussion.

1. I don't think that whole "God loves you but despises your sin" thing is appropriate at all. Who do you say this to besides homosexuals? I would guess no one. I think in many cases that people are welcomed into fellowships and then given some space for the Holy Spirit, not the Church to convict of sinful behavior. Of which heterosexual sins should one repent before being accepted as a convert?

2. The neurotic desire to remind someone that God "despises" (why use a word like that?) their sin every time "love" is mentioned cannot help much at all. Is it really the homosexual person, or is it you and the church who believe that a homosexual orientation is so determinative of her identity? Are you careful when talking about these things to make it clear that God doesn't despise the homosexual in her orientation, but rather wills a turning from sexual congress because it is damaging to her soul? That would be a pretty big difference.

3. You confuse me a bit. Either the churches have reponded appropriately, or they have gone to extremes.

4. If one wishes to show a homosexual person that they are more than their orientation, one must stop treating them like they are an orientation. If we really believe that to be the case, we would stop approaching people who happen to be homosexual and making it clear that the first thing that needs to be dealt with is their sexuality.

Do you have any other ideas?

+ Alan said...

May be more helpful to hear it from the scholar himself - hanily, he posted on his blog, yes he has one, about this very subject the other day it seems. Check it out here. He goes into more detail.

I do think this is more the thought of the Roman Church about annulment, etc. Kyle. An annulment is the Church looking into the matter to see if there ever really was a valid marriage to begin with, whether there are grounds to say that it did not properly exist. And there are numerous factors which might render it invalid.

Since hearing this view, I definitely lean toward it without embracing it as dogmatic Truth. As you said, I think it makes good sense and is consistent. It certainly takes quite a more serious view of marriage than most Protestants seem to take. It's all too easy and meaningless to most people when you get right down to it.

Oh, and he gets into one of your much loved subjects - the holy single life in Christ and it's validity as much as married life. Good stuff. Ben's a little odd, but aren't all Biblical scholars? Smart though. Peace to all here.

+ Alan said...

Stupid - I didn't put the link in for the blog post - sorry - Here it is.

Anonymous said...

I actually do teach to all "sinners" (all of us) that Christ loves us and yes, he despises our sin. Not just homosexuals. What I was trying to say was that it's harder to get someone to understand that when they define themselves by their particular . . . struggle. Most people who have a proneness to one type of sin don't have quite the "support group" homosexuals do. Where you can explain a lot easier to an alcoholic the Christ loves Him but despises it when he gets drunk (yes I used the word despised, because God does despise things) because most alcoholics will use the argument many homosexuals use, only when they are drunk. . . i.e. "that's who I am.. . I am a drinker" most people do identify so strongly with their struggle as do homosexuals. . . yes, even heterosexual fornicators don't identify so strongly with their sin. Most homosexuals I have read, seen, heard, and known have made their orientation their identity.. . not the church, they have.

While I also believe it is the Holy Spirit's "job" to convict, I don't believe there is anything wrong with saying God DESPISES sin. And I don't think anyone who is listening to those words would take them judgementally. Most people agree sin is a bad thing and God is a good God. . therefore He should DESPISE bad things. The point is that he does NOT despise the person, just the things they may do.

I do believe most churches I have personally worked with have handled the issue quite well. The ones we hear about on the media, however, are a different story. they are the ones who have gone to extremes.

All that being said, I still don't understand how we can help a homosexual person seperate their orientation from their identity.

Expax said...
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Expax said...
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Expax said...

And I'll get off my Bible rant. =) It must be the evangelical pseudo-inerrancist coming out of me. =)

Anonymous said...

I appreciate you sharing these things. What you're saying is that you realized that you were more and could be a whole lot more than what you identified yourself with before Christ. Am I right?

If I am, then it would be good to show other . . . "sexually broken" people. . in this case, homosexuals that they are so much more than this struggle. And if indeed they've conceeded the point that it's "not a struggle" it's "who they are" show them they can be so much more.

I am in a place where I am being confronted with this very issue more than ever, I suppose that is why I'm so inquisative and . . .commenty. ..

Kyle said...

Miguel, why do you like to use a word like "despise," which has such deep connotations of hatred? And who do you think would not take that word as judgmental? We must spend time with some very different people!

Further, why do you think the phrase, "God loves you but despises your sin" communicates anything but hatred? Keep in mind that people generally know what "despises your sin" looks like (think here of picket lines, Matthew Shepherd, whatever you like), but don't know what a real, unadulterated "God loves you" looks like coming from Christians. That "despises your sin bit" is usually a qualification of that love, and the only thing some people are genuinely comfortable with is "despising" other people's sin. Where precisely in the New Testament does that phrase appear?

I still strongly suggest that it might be the evangelical who needs to talk about sexuality with the homosexual first and foremost who has the hangup about identity more than the homosexual persons in question. Take the plank from your own eye...

Kyle said...

Ben, thanks for your contribution. Obviously, should you be kicking yourself later, you can just delete the comment. :0)

I have not studied the matter as much as I would like (and probably will) but sexuality is probably more of a spectrum rather than a bunch of catagories, and at that, a spectrum that bears the weight of the great ontological Fall of which we try to make some sense.

And to answer your question specifically, the issue in evangelical churches is typically that if one's inclinations and life situation are anything but a monogamous, single marriage, celibacy is the only other legitimate choice.

Unless one is a heterosexual divorcee, apparently. My own question ends up being whether for pastoral reasons, a monogamous single gender union can be considered part of God's redemptive plan B for people.

If so, we need a theology for that other than the typical mainline "god made people that way, so we ought to bless it" and if not, we need a theology as well as a pastoral provision for celibacy as a norm - for lots of people.

Expax said...
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Expax said...

Hey Miguel.

The idea that God is making more than I could (ever) be has been a venue in which I have drawn much strength from.

Theology has almost always been associated with "virtue-begetting". This was particularly done by a guy named Basil. Really a kool guy in some of the some of the stuff he comes up with on the Holy Spirit, but that is besides the point. Anyhow, as I study God I come to see how God is good, and by coming to see & know how God is good and goodness I am able to emulate God's goodness and progress towards good (both through the power of the Holy Spirit).

Contributing on to the theology that assists me in my walk is the concept of theosis and justification. I tend to go for a both/and approach in these 2 things. I am justified & being justified YET being deified. The closest concept that I can find to my theology is the Pietist doctrine of Weidergeburt with the exception that Christian perfection is being realized in this life and realized in the life to come (in other words we are perfect yet are being perfected/growing in perfection and one day be perfect).

Theology has trully been a gift to me in that it has assisted me to become more like God; it has been virtue-begetting in me. As I enter into relationship with God and come to know God, I am transformed and become more than I ever could be.

And Miguel it may be one of the better things we can do as individuals to help people walk a godly life by showing that they can be (through the power of the Holy Spirit) more than they could be in Christ. Because in the end we are by far more than our struggles, we are trully the children of God.

Expax said...

One of the most edifying things that I have ever heard anyone say in regards as a witness to this matter:

I had an individual once approach a friend of mine who had come out of the closest (this was during the time when I had become a Christian, chosen not to participate in homosexual activities, yet no one knew of my past) and began to spoke of how God has done a work in his life and how sexually broken he was (and all of humanity) and how God was sorrowful over his condition (and all of humanity) and how he has had to walk hand and hand with God in keeping from falling into his sexual brokness and how he is healed in God yet ultimately healed in God. This was a fullblown hetereosexual yet one who was speaking in language in which a homosexual could identify him or herself in. It was uplifting to hear that the hetereosexual plight is the same as the homosexual plight. That sin of fornication is the sin of fornication. That sexual brokeness is sexual brokeness. By being relational yet firm there was a great witness. Only problem is not everyone was acceptive of his speech because some did not want to accept the idea that they were sexually broken.

(I wish I could right more on this but I got to get ready for work).

rawbbie said...

Yeah, you're right Mike and Miguel; God hates our sin. And most christians probably know that. However, we're not talking to Christians, we're talking to the world. This is why we need better words than despise. I like broken. It works for me.


Kyle said...

I have yet to hear a justification for using the word "despise." Can't anyone at least offer some kind of prooftext for it?

Simply to answer the question, "why do you say that God's 'despises' sin?" with "because he does" doesn't cut it.

Kyle said...

The doctrine of the Trinity is a development of the Church in council.

Your insistance that God "despises" sin is your own theology for which you've declined to offer a biblical foundation.

Brokenness wouldn't be a good substitute, unless you're also pleased to say that God despises brokenness - now that's really frightening.

But here's the really important question, and what I'm asking in Part III: if you're going to be a Christian, how are you going to live out in the world the truth that God loves homosexual people as well as the idea that he "feels strongly regarding" or "despises" what you consider to be their sinful behavior. Is that different from despising the person with a homosexual orientation? How will you prove that?

rawbbie said...

No, no, no, I meant that broken replaces despise. So one would say "God is broken over your sins," instead of "God despises your sins." Which is a true statement and is a much better foot forward.

About the P.C. culture we live in: if someone is hurt by something that is said, and if it can be avoided, why say it? If the same point can be made with a different set of words, why not use the less offensive set of words? Example: when referring to an African American, one could call them a N****, but why would anyone say that? It's offensive. Same thing goes when presenting God's love and justice.

What does God hate? I would refer to Matt 5. It's your heart, your desires. Sex can be an idol that is put before God. Keeping your desire on God is very very hard.


Kyle said...

Now that is different. Good point, Robbie.