Homosexuality: Does a Pastor have to have an Answer?

As a minister, you get used to hearing people ask you what you believe about all kinds of different issues.  This occurs from people within your church as well as people outside your church – from Christians as well as non-Christians.  Occasionally, I’ll even receive Facebook messages from high school friends and old acquaintances asking my opinion about certain matters – anything from doctrine to politics to current events to interior design – ok, that hasn’t happened, but just about everything else has!  Most ministers become adept at navigating their responses to delicate and controversial issues in order to convey their true feelings while also respecting a diversity of thought and opinion.  Some, like Patrick Mead, even offer an ongoing “ask the preacher” kind of format in his blog. No doubt, we all have our sacred cows and find it difficult to answer both honestly and succinctly to certain matters (just ask me about militarism), but by and large, this is something that comes with the territory and the title.  We are teachers.  Those who preach come from a long line of prophets and Christian leaders.  Our voices aren’t more important than anyone else’s – I firmly believe that – but our voices are often heard by more than others.  Even those of us who preach at small churches like mine carry some degree of influence.  Thus, people are genuinely interested in what we have to say.

Generally, I truly appreciate these inquiries and am humbled that anyone cares about my opinion.  I try to be a constant student, love learning, and make every effort to be as prepared for any question or discussion that may come my way.  The older I get and the more I study and learn – the more inadequate I feel and the more difficulty I have in offering short answers to just about any question.  I find I hate yes/no questions more than ever.  And the more I change my mind about things, the less certain I become about many of the beliefs I currently hold.

And so, inevitably, I find myself asked in different ways, under differing circumstances, and by a broad diversity of people what I believe about homosexuality and correspondingly what I believe the Bible teaches about homosexuality.  I have some pretty controversial perspectives on politics and nationalism (along with a few other things :-)) but I have become more afraid of tackling this topic than any other . . . by far.

If you are like me, you have a short attention span when it comes to reading blog posts and so, if you are truly like me, you probably won’t read this entire thing, because . . . if you’re like me, you can’t write shortly or succinctly about this one, but I’ll do what I can to offer what is at the heart of my struggle here.

In response to one of the most recent inquiries into my beliefs about homosexuality and Christianity and the Bible, I hemmed and hawed and finally said, “I don’t know.”  It wasn’t a cop-out and I wasn’t trying to avoid the discussion.  Honestly, I’ve been studying and thinking about this issue pretty seriously since 1998 when I was first exposed to teenagers who were wrestling with this issue.  I was pretty confused back then, and I find it discouraging that 15 years later, I’m still really confused and unsure.

And now everyone wants to know what I think – well, not everyone, but three or four people.  As of late, it’s become an explosive topic to discuss – even more than in the past.  I’m disappointed that more high profile pastors and Christian leaders aren’t having honest public discussion about the topic.  I’m disappointed, but I’m not surprised. I’m sure they’re scared to death to open this can of worms.  Sure, the boisterous voices on either the far right and far left of the issue are quick to throw out their zingers and offer their messages of condemnation or salvation, but just look at how many are really quiet.  My tradition is, admittedly, an interesting one, but we have our fair share of public figures, and I haven’t heard many of them address this topic head on.  Thank you for being an exception Sally Gary!

This post is already long, so let me get to the heart of things here.  You want to know my opinion about this matter?  I don’t know.  Honestly.  I don’t know what I believe about it.  I feel caught between a rock and a hard place in coming to terms with a theological articulation that I am comfortable with.  I’ll offer a point or two below to highlight why I don’t know, but first I want to ask the question, “Is it so bad that I don’t know?”  Haven’t we moved beyond the era where pastors and other teachers and leaders have to be “answer men/women”?  Haven’t we been wrong on enough matters to keep us from speaking too definitively on just about anything?  I know this scares the hell out of some people, but just look at the track record of the church.  We’ve been wrong . . . really, really wrong, on some crucial matters in the past.  Southern churches on slavery and later on civil rights, German Lutherans and their dual kingdom theology allowing them to turn the other way at Hitler’s rise to power . . . torture and execution of heretics . . . need I go on?

Even the Bible gets it wrong.  If you’ve never squirmed your way through some of the Old Testament passages that kicked the women out of the camp because they were on their period or that would offer a rapist the woman’s hand in marriage for a fee or read the book of Joshua and considered the countless women and children that were murdered at the hands of God’s people, you have skipped over the icky parts.  Maybe I’m overstating it to say that “the Bible gets it wrong” . . . but my point is that it’s not like this sacred book that we all point to for guidance and truth can just be picked up preached without some unpacking.

For this issue of homosexuality, there’s a lot at stake, and I understand that’s why it’s so explosive.  All wrapped up in this matter are the issues of politics, the sacredness/sacrament of marriage, equality, rights, biblical interpretation (hermeneutics), your view of Scripture, your view of the state, love, parenting, creation, the nature of God, the nature of humanity, science, genetics, and probably a thousand others I’ve overlooked.

And I don’t know what to do with it all.  Theologically and hermeneutically, I struggle to make homosexuality “fit.”  There’s a lot at stake in order for me to make it “fit,” and slowly around me some of those troubles are beginning to fall away.  However, for good or for ill, I remain reluctant to make that jump.   Experientially, I struggle to make the prohibition of homosexuality “fit.”  Friends, companions, and conversation partners I have had in the past and currently have help me struggle through their created nature.  Why would they have feelings like this?  Why would God make them like this?  What does it mean?  It is like other struggles (alcoholism, etc.) but it’s not the same.  Not by a long stretch.  And so . . . what to do?

I have a good friend who is transgendered and, whether she knows it or not, is helping me think through this as well.  When I say alot is at stake, this comes front and center in the matter of gender identity.  The first question we ask upon a child’s birth is, “Is it a boy or a girl?”  It’s the fundamental black and white question in our society.  But what about when it’s not black and white?  What about when we understand gender as more than anatomical?  When that question becomes complicated, that seems to make the point that everything is complicated.

There are so many related issues under the rubric of homosexuality and I am far from prepared to delve into even a few of them.  For now, I am prepared to let you know that I don’t know.  Many, maybe even most, will look at that as being “soft.”  A cop out.  Wimping out.  Maybe it is.  Maybe I am.  I do believe that most of what I am hearing and reading about regarding the matter of homosexuality from professed Christians isn’t helping anyone.  It’s often vitriol, judgmental, and condescending.  I know that all of it isn’t and that we are becoming more adept at public discourse regarding the issue, but we have a long ways to go.

I also know that there are many Christians who are struggling through this matter.  I know many of them are not in churches that allow them to share openly and honestly the struggles that comes with these feelings and, perhaps, being in these relationships.  I know that I don’t understand what they are going through.  I want to empathize, and try as much as I can, but I don’t understand their struggles.  I am full of my own struggles and know the temptation of pornography, short skirts, and tight shirts.  I know the power of libido and confess my own shortcomings in taking captive those thoughts to Christ.  And I know that I am not in a position of being your judge, and hope that these people can find friends and companions that will help them navigate these challenging waters.  I hope to provide some additional posts in the coming weeks into some of my struggles through this issue, but as for now, I just wanted to say to all those who want to know what I think about homosexuality: “I don’t know.”

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11 thoughts on “Homosexuality: Does a Pastor have to have an Answer?

  1. Pingback: Homosexuality: Does a Pastor have to have an Answer? | ChristianBookBarn.com

  2. Honest answer Adam. The main problem as I see it is we cannot even be sure what the scriptures are saying to us to today about homosexuality. The biblical writers did not have the advantage of our current understanding, and much of what the Bible spoke against was the worship of Pagan gods. Still, like you I don’t know for certain.

    What is clear though is that as Christians we are to be compassionate towards others, regardless. Jesus said that the way we treat others is the way we we treat Him.

  3. I don’t know either, Adam. And I’m absolutely fine with that.

    Name your reasons why, but we often have a lust for perfect knowledge, on any given (theological) issue. Even worse is that for ministers, we are often expected to have (and teach) this so-called knowledge. It is a knowledge Tower of Babel, and that is why God often confuses our language; its why we can’t ever see eye to eye & agree perfectly with each other on anything.

    I think we all need to do a little more admitting that we don’t know perfectly, we can’t know perfectly — and that’s all right. I think we are called to such positions of humility and openness, because its there that we learn in faith to let the Spirit of God speak into our ignorance. Do we have the faith to trust him that he will take where we need to go, to places of understanding that will honor and glorify him?

  4. I don’t struggle with it at all. In fact, I struggle with ministers of the gospel of Jesus Christ STRUGGLING with it. Seeing as you are a post modernist, perhaps seminary isn’t what it used to be. Okay, just for the sake of argument, let’s say the evolutionists are correct. Everything is chemistry. Even our emotions are chemical responses (up to and including love) according to them. The pure chemistry of procreation would indicate that a homosexual population is predestined to extinction. Oh yeah….Jesus taught that we have a heavenly father that loves us (Is THAT chemistry too?) The issue is that…er how did you say it? Oh yes, even the word of God GET’S IT WRONG SOMETIMES. There you have your answer. 1st Romans would teach that the place we are as a country is the natural progression of a people so smart, that they must ponder simplistic issues of right and wrong, even surmising that perhaps the WORD of God got it wrong, if that is what it takes to come down on the lovey-dovey side of Christianity. Like a dear friend said concerning the ultra seeker-friendly post modernist church “you can love people right into hell.” Perhaps her crude way of putting it, is a put off, but her point is well taken. Have you even wondered why the apostle Paul, in his letter to the Corinthians 6:9 (Now, I know we have all read the diatribe) but most people overlook three little words in the pre-text “Be not deceived”. Why those words? Why? Because even the infant church at Corinth was already infiltrated with spectators, and zealot philosophers that had not been born again. Paul’s admonition was to never assume that you’re going to heaven unless you have been truly born again, and according to him people living in open sin CLEARLY had not the spirit of God living inside them. If all things don’t become new to a person, from his philosophy to his acknowledgement of disobedience, to his willingness to be obedient to the father (through the spirit living inside him), then it was a sure-fire indicator that one of the seeds of the word of God had fallen into one of the three categories OTHER THAN good good ground. If you struggle with this issue, who are you struggling with? I don’t get it. I, like another poster don’t hate anyone, not am I disrespectful to anyone, not do I have any desire to be mean to anyone regardless of their position and decisions in life, but I CANNOT and will not say that God got it wrong. God didn’t get it wrong when he told Abraham to sacrifice Isaac, though it looked cruel, he didn’t get it wrong when he allowed Satan to vex Job, and he didn’t get it wrong when Steven was stoned to death for being such a brilliant teacher. God doesn’t get it wrong brother. We do.

    • I understand where you are coming from – I really do, and to a point I admire that you can be so definitive. I used to be able to be that way. I still feel the pull that way. However, the longer I live, the more experiences I have, the more difficulty I have in seeing anything in black and white. I know that sounds like a pure blood relativist, and maybe that’s what I am, but, as I say, I’m still struggling through these things. I was using a bit of hyperbole in stating that “the Bible gets it wrong” so much of your comment is in response to my overstating that, but your point, again, is well taken. My hesitation here doesn’t come from the more “clear-cut” passages you cite. Those aren’t nearly as troubling as some of the others – that’s where the ambivalence and uncertainty comes in on my part. What about eunuchs? How does that translate to today? We read right over their existence in the New Testament but never give a passing thought to their relevance for today. And what about polygamy in the Old Testament? Why isn’t there some more specifically addressed passages highlighting what changed making that no longer OK? I mean, God blessed Abraham, David, and Solomon (among others) with many wives . . . today we see that as an aberration – what’s with the change? Thanks for your comment – and for helping me along the way . . . as the title of this blog illustrates . . . I continue to vacillate . . .

  5. I don’t know. I have no expertise in Ancient, Language, Anthropology, or Ancient History whatsoever. Can I read a 2000+ year old document that has been translated many times over and be absolutely sure what it means to us today? Of course not. All I do know is that everything changed when Jesus befriended the outcasts of His day and those the Law said were unclean.

    I am not so concerned about what the Bible says about homosexuality as I am about how God would have us treat members of the GBLT community. If being in contact with the Blood of Christ is what changes lives do we have the right to turn anyone away? Seems to me we spend too much time on an issue that may not concern God as much as our own sins.

  6. Pingback: Jason Collins and the You Know What Hitting the Fan | Theological Vacillation

  7. Debra, how would you interpret the passages where Jesus speaks of church discipline? He says to treat unrepentant brothers and sisters differently if they don’t repent. Sounds like Jesus is kind of strict there!

  8. Adam, I just came across your blog and this post. As a gay Christian man who caused a world of pain to many people I love dearly when I came out at the age of 52 I deeply appreciate your honesty and transparency. I agree that many of our wellknown preachers and professors are notoriously quiet on this subject. I actually see something positive in their silence however. Maybe it’s wishful thinking but I suspect they sense that the old pat arguments and answers are wrong even if they don’t have the replacements clearly in mind yet. Of course many of them stand to lose their jobs if they stray from the standard Evangelical/Church of Christ position. That’s actually a valid reason in my book to remain quiet. It is no small thing to lose one’s livelihood and that of one’s family. In much the same way, many ministers and academics concluded at least from the 1970’s on that there was nothing sinful about instrumental music in worship but simply stopped teaching and preaching on the subject. A generation of silence on instrumental music preceded its introduction in some congregations.

    What frustrates me more is the refusal of CoC leaders and shapers of opinion to change even on aspects of homosexuality that don’t require an endorsement of the physical expression of homosexual love. The primary issue I’m thinking of is mixed gay-straight marriages. Based on my life experiences I believe they are cruel for all involved sooner or later. I fell in love with my former wife in every way possible except for the absence of sexual arousal. I was even strongly attracted to her sensually- her beautiful hair and skin and her alluring fragrance. I was a good kid- in church every time the door was open and at every church youth group activity. And I was a virgin, right up to my wedding night. I did not realize that the lack of sexual arousal for women would eventually catch up with me and
    cause my life and ministry to crash and
    burn. I had even regularly seen a CoC counselor with professional credentials but
    he was fine with me marrying a woman. I
    wish someone had been looking out for her.
    What I discovered over three decades as a
    gay but faithful husband (before my adultery) was that even a gay man can have sex with a woman but not forever. I married in my early 20’s but began to have difficulty initiating physical intimacy in my 40’s until my ability to do so ended entirely.

    My phone is almost dead. I’ll conclude later

    adultery) was that even a gay man can have sex with a woman but not forever. I
    married in my early 20’s. By my 40’s I began to have difficulty initiating physical intimacy and eventually compl

  9. Sorry for that jumbled ending. To sum up my concern is for young gay Christian men in conservative Christian denominations who even now may be led to believe that marrying a woman is the best way for them to follow God’s will for their lives. I’m not aware of any CoC leaders are bloggers who will even address this subject. Anyone who cares about Christian women should be motivated to consider the tremendous pain they undergo eventually when they marry a gay man.

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