Up For Debate

Let us dicuss the following article found in the winter edition of Leadership Magazine written by Brian McLaren. He addresses the issue of a proper “pastor-response” to homosexuality. Objectively read…then respectfully respond. I look forward to your thoughts.

“The couple approached me immediately after the service. This was their first time visiting, and they really enjoyed the service, they said, but they had one question. You can guess what the question was about: not transubstantiation, not speaking in tongues, not inerrancy or eschatology, but where our church stood on homosexuality.
That “still, small voice” told me not to answer. Instead I asked, “Can you tell me why that question is important to you?” “It’s a long story,” he said with a laugh.
Usually when I’m asked about this subject, it’s by conservative Christians wanting to be sure that we conform to what I call “radio-orthodoxy,” i.e. the religio-political priorities mandated by many big-name religious broadcasters. Sometimes it’s asked by ex-gays who want to be sure they’ll be supported in their ongoing re-orientation process, or parents whose children have recently “come out.”
But the young woman explained, “This is the first time my fiancée and I have ever actually attended a Christian service, since we were both raised agnostic.” So I supposed they were like most unchurched young adults I meet, who wouldn’t want to be part of an anti-homosexual organization any more than they’d want to be part of a racist or terrorist organization.
I hesitate in answering “the homosexual question” not because I’m a cowardly flip-flopper who wants to tickle ears, but because I am a pastor, and pastors have learned from Jesus that there is more to answering a question than being right or even honest: we must also be . . . pastoral. That means understanding the question beneath the question, the need or fear or hope or assumption that motivates the question.
We pastors want to frame our answer around that need; we want to fit in with the Holy Spirit’s work in that person’s life at that particular moment. To put it biblically, we want to be sure our answers are “seasoned with salt” and appropriate to “the need of the moment” (Col. 4; Eph. 4).
Most of the emerging leaders I know share my agony over this question. We fear that the whole issue has been manipulated far more than we realize by political parties seeking to shave percentage points off their opponent’s constituency. We see whatever we say get sucked into a vortex of politicized culture-wars rhetoric–and we’re pastors, evangelists, church-planters, and disciple-makers, not political culture warriors. Those who bring us honest questions are people we are trying to care for in Christ’s name, not cultural enemies we’re trying to vanquish.
Frankly, many of us don’t know what we should think about homosexuality. We’ve heard all sides but no position has yet won our confidence so that we can say “it seems good to the Holy Spirit and us.” That alienates us from both the liberals and conservatives who seem to know exactly what we should think. Even if we are convinced that all homosexual behavior is always sinful, we still want to treat gay and lesbian people with more dignity, gentleness, and respect than our colleagues do. If we think that there may actually be a legitimate context for some homosexual relationships, we know that the biblical arguments are nuanced and multilayered, and the pastoral ramifications are staggeringly complex. We aren’t sure if or where lines are to be drawn, nor do we know how to enforce with fairness whatever lines are drawn.
Perhaps we need a five-year moratorium on making pronouncements. In the meantime, we’ll practice prayerful Christian dialogue, listening respectfully, disagreeing agreeably. When decisions need to be made, they’ll be admittedly provisional. We’ll keep our ears attuned to scholars in biblical studies, theology, ethics, psychology, genetics, sociology, and related fields. Then in five years, if we have clarity, we’ll speak; if not, we’ll set another five years for ongoing reflection. After all, many important issues in church history took centuries to figure out. Maybe this moratorium would help us resist the “winds of doctrine” blowing furiously from the left and right, so we can patiently wait for the wind of the Spirit to set our course.
Later that week I got together with the new couple to hear their story. “It’s kind of weird how we met,” they explained. “You see, we met last year through our fathers who became . . . partners. When we get married, we want to be sure they will be welcome at our wedding. That’s why we asked you that question on Sunday.”
Welcome to our world. Being “right” isn’t enough. We also need to be wise. And loving. And patient. Perhaps nothing short of that should “seem good to the Holy Spirit and us.” “

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19 Responses

  1. I agree with Steve McCoy’s point: What good will a 5-year moratorium do? As if we don’t have 2,000 years of Christian thought on this already. In 5 years McLaren might have this figured out?

    “If we think that there may actually be a legitimate context for some homosexual relationships, we know that the biblical arguments are nuanced and multilayered, and the pastoral ramifications are staggeringly complex. We aren’t sure if or where lines are to be drawn, nor do we know how to enforce with fairness whatever lines are drawn.”

    This is bunk, IMO. Biblical arguments against homosexuality are as straightfoward as the ones against murder and adultery. The Holy Spirit already tells us what to think about sin, because it reminds us of what Scripture says (John 14).

    There’s a difference between a lost homosexual person coming to church, and a professing Christian homosexual coming to church. You deal with each of them differently.

    The first, you have compassion on and share the Gospel with (in whatever ways you choose to best do that). They aren’t sinners because they’re homosexuals, they’re sinners because we all are.

    For a professing Christian, there’s Scriptures you can show them. Exhorting them in love. God has a clear word for that person as to what sin is and “where the line is drawn.” It’s our duty to do so, and for the benefit of the person who shows them the error in their ways, and for the person who is in error.

    sorry for the long response.

  2. I agree and I agree. I think the truly loving thing to do is to share the truth in love. I do think Mclaren come mighty close to OKing excusing homosexuality. Unless repentence isn’t in hand means no forgiveness is on its way. That is not unloving, in fact it is the most loving thing.

    I do think though we shouldn’t marginalize sin, I think that is a great ploy of American Christianity.

    I also agree with what joe carter says over at evangelical outpost
    Link: http://www.evangelicaloutpost.com/
    archives/001795.html

    If you want to see an excellent christian response to the sin of homosexuality chekc out Tom Ascol’s post
    Link:http://www.founders.org/blog/2006/01
    /homosexual-activism-and-sbc.html

  3. I like many of the things mclaren has to say. I have read all of his works. however, i do wish that he would retreat from the edge of the cliff that he so closely hugs.

  4. I agree.

  5. My entirely too-long response…

    (1) It’s difficult to construct a Biblically-based argument that justifies homosexuality (skip this point if you don’t want to read another personal theology of homosexuality). You want to argue that references in Levitical law no longer apply since we’re under grace now and not the law? OK. You want to argue that Sodom and Gomorrah’s sin was “inhospitality”? Certainly raping your city’s guests is inhospitable, but Jude 1:7 associates Sodom with sexual immorality and perversion (though, granted, it doesn’t specifically name homosexuality). Gen. 18 indicates destruction of S&G occurred b/c of “grave” “sin” and b/c God was unable to find 10 righteous men in the city. You want to argue I Cor 6:9 and I Tim 1:10 use Greek words more suggestive of pedophilia that occurred in the temples than homosexuality? You’re getting shaky. The passage that, in my mind, can’t be argued away is Romans 1. I’ve seen lots of contorting to argue that this passage doesn’t say what it says (one author wrote that it refers to heterosexuals who engage in homosexual sex, not homosexuals who engage in homosexual sex… huh???). At any rate, you have to either deny innerancy of scripture or deny immutability of God/Biblical principles to justify a homosexual lifestyle.

    (2)”Most of the emerging leaders I know share my agony over this question. We fear that the whole issue has been manipulated far more than we realize by political parties…” A correct assessment regarding the politization of the issue. The Phelps fellow (“God hates fags” guy) hasn’t helped either.

    (3) Many of us share Mr. McLaren’s concern of alienating a whole group of people by being associated with the contemptuous behavior of some claiming Christ. To choose to ignore the topic rather than to deliver the truth in love is irresponsible.

    (4) The most disturbing comment from the article… “We’ll keep our ears attuned to scholars in biblical studies, theology, ethics, psychology, genetics, sociology, and related fields.” If our mores and beliefs are swayed by humanistic fields of study, we’re no longer a God-enthralled, God-glorifying, God-dependent people. We are joining Eve in the garden of Eden, eating a piece of fruit to make ourselves into gods who don’t need to rely on God for instruction. That marked the fall of creation into destruction; with all due respect to Mr. McLaren, it was the antithesis of hope and salvation.

  6. It just kind of occurred to me… McClaren’s suggestions of “We’ll keep our ears attuned to scholars in biblical studies, theology, ethics, psychology, genetics, sociology, and related fields,” sounds like we come up with doctrine by majority rule.

    Similar to the SBC’s new requirements on IMB membership doesn’t go by what the scripture says, but rather because of what a “majority” of SBC churches practice.

  7. It always amazes me how people try to justify sin. Homosexuality is sin…why? We are created in the image of God; God is not a homosexual. Marinate in that a while.

    I think in legal circles they call this the “Prima Facia Plank”, I just jerked the plank out from underneath anyones feet who would disagree.

  8. anonymous…

    are you saying God is a heterosexual? My conception would be more asexual. Wouldn’t your logic make heterosexuality wrong?

    There are a lot of good, logically-sound arguments that homosexuality is not a Biblically-acceptable lifestyle. With all due respect, I don’t think the one you offered is one of them.

  9. d blake –
    Have ever read a struggling preacher from long ago named Johnathon Edwards? How about Samuel Zwemmer? Go read and study their writtings and teachings and maybe we will talk sometime (that is why I mentioned to marinate in it). My post wasn’t meant for a quick reply or knee jerk reaction such as yours.

  10. Dave,
    Isn’t it funny how we have been dialoguing a little bit on my blog about anonymity and here you are, as I have been, being attacked by some who is not willing to stand by their comments with courage?

    And I am sure that you have all of Edwards’ works memorized…don’t you?

  11. I had an actual comment about the actual discussion, but then I got hung up on trying to figure out if the anonymous poster was trying to make a joke regarding the ‘prima facie plank’ bit, or if they just didn’t know that thats a completely incorrect use of prima facie(seemingly looking for res ipsa loquitur), or if they took the time to think about the ramifications of building ‘God is not X, therefore X is bad’ arguments, when the construction of the predicate X presupposes some extra biblical knowledge of God. More importantly it would seem to me that such arguments pose tricky theological problems. For example, God doesn’t use money, we are created in the image of God, therefore; the use of money is a sin. Just so we all know, I don’t believe such a thing, just an example.

    What would I learn reading edwards and zwemmer regarding this issue? Assuming I replaced my stack of current reading with such authors.

  12. Matt W –
    I would love to know what your current stack of reading consists of. I would hope something more than how to get a more comfortable chair at work, make more money (which by the way money seems to be a recurring theme with you in your writings – should I read something into this?), get a competent secretary to make you look good, etc.

    And yes, I did mean to use Prima Facia and it is used correctly here.

    Dave B –
    Didn’t mean to offend. After I re-read my comments I can see how one could take it that way. My apologizes.

  13. The last thing I want to do is start another round of Christians going at each other.

    Anonymous… I’m not offended. To be honest, when I reread my post, my words were harsher than I intended. My apologies. My point, though, is that our arguments on this subject need to be (1) Biblical and (2) logical (and, I would add in hindsight, full of grace).

    I tire of statements like “God made Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve.” Most of us know people who have embraced the homosexual life. A logical, loving discussion with someone with whom I’ve demonstrated a genuine interest (bathed in prayer) is more helpful than Christian rallying-cries.

    Skipping back to the McLaren article, I actually kind of like his question of “Can you tell me why that question is important to you?” It opens the door for a meaningful conversation rather than party-line cliches concerning the subject. (Of course, that discussion needs to result in the truth being delivered in love).

    Smitty… we’re all still waiting for you to weigh-in on the situation. 🙂

  14. Maybe I am missing something, but doesn’t the question “Can you tell me why that question is important to you?” ultimately end in the biblical argument for marriage and the original intent of our having been given a sexuality in the first place? This, too, is the primary reason that the “Right,” meaning typically consersative Republicans are the ones standing for this issue in the political realm. I tire of the political debate and party lines, too, but that does not mean that there isn’t meaningful place for those debates in that sphere. It is our responsibility as Christians to be engaged in our governmental processes, and this necessitates our being affiliated, at least on this issue, with the party that stands for the biblical viewpoint. Granted, they may not recognize it as a ‘biblical’ viewpoint, but at least they stand for the fundamental issue of marriage.

    I, do, however want to reiterate the meaningful discussion is always better than fighting. Sometimes, though, conflict is necessary, even if it is in the political realm.

  15. You know, I need appologize to the anonymous poster, I was out of line for attacking his/her choice of words, they are such important things to be slinging about so carelessly. Although, I would still interested to know the identity of the anonymous poster.

  16. tim…

    the question should lead to the discussion you mentioned, but based on McLaren’s article, I don’t think it led there for him.

  17. tim – I think yu ar right in saying that we need to be engaged in governmental prcesses. It is our duty as Christians to create a culture. One that is distinct and counter to the one that exists. (biblical idea of cultural mandate.)I would add though that it can be accomplished without towing the party line. Christians hould not fall into the two party system that operates here in the US, instead we should transcend and and say we are not republican we are not democrat, we are christian and from our worldview this is how we are going to repsond.
    I do think we need to be careful in legislating “sin”. The only reason I am supporting any kind of pro-life or pro-marriage legislation is because I do not enjoy seeing illions of babies die a year and I would not like the repurcussions on the church if marriage is not defined as a one man and one woman.
    I am not downplaying the importance of action in governement but we could all use a little leaven of the Lutheran Two Kingdom Theology.

  18. “We aren’t sure if or where lines are to be drawn, nor do we know how to enforce with fairness whatever lines are drawn.”

    Sorry, but the Bible makes its stance on homosexuality and where to draw the lines crystal clear.

    He concludes that we should be loving; the most loving thing you can do is give people truth.

    The question they asked is a simple one to answer, well unless you are desperately trying to attract the unregenerate to your “church” by savvily dancing around the issue.

    He also says “pastors have learned from Jesus that there is more to answering a question than being right or even honest.” Are you kidding me? Has he read how Christ answered the rich young ruler? Something more important than being right??? Christ is the Truth He is always right what is more important that that. His whole statement is blasphemous.

  19. After clipping my fingernails I am back and with this thought. If Christ were alive today He would probably hand out with homosexuals. Can’t you just see Him going to eat lunch with homosexuals and everyone getting mad about it? He would condemn their sin and instruct them to repent but he would none the less love them. I think that is the whole deal with us. We say we love sinners but hate sin but at the same time alienate ourselves from homosexuals. Just a thought.

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