Tag Archives: same-sex attraction

Is Evangelicalism On A Slippery Slope Regarding Gender?

14th in a series.

If you are just joining in, I urge to go back to the first blog post in this series, and work your way forward, to get to where we are now, as this discussion will now take a different, broader turn, built on what was discussed previously….

Here is a hot potato to try to handle: If evangelical churches move in an egalitarian direction, regarding having women as elders, are they on a slippery slope towards accepting same-sex marriage?

For many conservative evangelical churches, that have chosen over the past one hundred years, or more, to ordain women at all levels of pastoral ministry, the answer would be a firm, “NO.” Consider these examples, and the dates when women first started to be ordained: Nazarenes (in 1908), the Assemblies of God (in 1914), the Free Methodists (in 1864), and various Pentecostal churches (in 1906), along with their charismatic descendants.

Despite a few exceptions here and there, these historic denominations have maintained a firm commitment to a classic, historic view of Christian marriage, as being between a man and a woman. They have held to other fundamental doctrines of Christian faith, too. Many have come to Christ, through the effectiveness and faithfulness of these ministries, and have held stedfast to the Gospel. Many egalitarian evangelical churches are indeed growing. Slippery slopes, therefore, are not automatic.

On the other hand, the story among mainline Protestant churches is quite different. The Episcopal Church USA began ordaining women as priests in the 1970s. Back then, it was unthinkable for many Episcopalians to consider the possibility of having same-sex marriage ceremonies held in their churches.

Fast forward to the first decade of the 21st century, when the Episcopal Church USA ordained an openly practicing gay man as bishop of an influential northern diocese. In 2018, the Episcopal Church passed a resolution, stating that same-sex couples will now be able to marry in their home parish, even if their local bishop has moral objections to same-sex marriage. The resolution stopped just short of fully integrating same-sex marriage liturgy into the Book of Common Prayer, but that has not stopped some Episcopal priests from secretly performing same-sex marriage ceremonies.

The story has been repeated a number of times over the years. Mainline churches that several generations ago began to ordain women, and promised to “hold the line” against same-sex marriage, are now finding themselves under increased pressure to allow for and even endorse same-sex marriages in their churches. The United Churches of Christ began ordaining women in 1957. In 2005, the United Churches of Christ affirmed “marriage equality” in their foundational documents. The same type of stories have been repeated, or are currently repeating, among more mainline Lutherans, Baptists, Presbyterians, and some United Methodists.

As a result, these once dominant, mainline bodies of churches have continued on towards a trajectory of decline. Mainline churches once boasted of 30% affiliation among Americans in the early 1970s. That number has dropped to around 10% affiliation among Americans in 2017. If the current trend continues, mainline churches may not be around anymore in about 20 years. Or at least, they will become a shadow of what they once were. Is the current trend reversible?

Furthermore, as the mainline has declined, the line between evangelical churches and the older mainline has grown fuzzier and fuzzier. The culture today is vastly different from the culture a hundred years ago. That being the case, what can prevent an evangelical church today, in the current cultural climate, from following the declining pattern already established by the older mainline?

Many egalitarian evangelicals unswervingly hold to the conviction that the practice of having women as elders and pastors is fundamentally unrelated to the question of same-sex marriage. I do not question this conviction. As stated above, plenty of evangelical churches who have been ordaining women to elder or pastoral ministry have remained firm in their commitment to classic Christian sexual ethics. In other words, an “inevitable” slippery slope is a logical fallacy.

However, what I am not sure about is why these issues are fundamentally unrelated. This question of why same-sex marriage is wrong, and why women as elders, for many, might be wrong as well, does not get thought about often enough. I know many fine egalitarian Christians who truly believe these issues are fundamentally unrelated. But it is not always clear as to why that is the case.

Give this some consideration: The main issue with having women as elders is not about competence nor ability. It is about gender. Likewise, the main issue about same-sex marriage is not about love, family, or commitment. It is about gender.

What then is our theology of gender all about? Do the gender distinctions between male and female really matter, and where is this to be applied? Only with respect to sexual behavior, or is there more to it?

The narrative of creation sets the stage for how we think about gender, what it means, how significant it is, and where the differences between male and female really matter:

So God created man in his own image,
    in the image of God he created him;
    male and female he created them.
(Genesis 1:27 ESV).

This is a complex issue, that requires thoughtful reflection, and no single blog post can easily resolve the discussion. To put it briefly, Genesis teaches us that men and women are created by God to be equal. But men and women are NOT interchangeable.1 The problem is, that in discerning what the practical implications are, requires a lot of thought and prayer, in our efforts to figure this stuff out.

Egalitarians must be willing to take a hard look at this: By promoting the idea that woman should be serving as elders/pastors, are they merely copying “what the world does,” or are they truly resisting “the world?” Is egalitarian theology really rooted in the Gospel? If not, then perhaps the gains of tinkering with church eldership will be offset by the dilution of a robust theology of gender.

Complementarians must be willing to take a hard look, too: By only permitting men to be elders/pastors, are they honoring women, or are they somehow denigrating women? Is complementarian theology really rooted in the Gospel? If not, then the hard line taken against women in those leadership roles will distort a truly robust theology of gender.

What Is The Positive Posture To Take on Such Matters?

A further problem to consider is this: When trying to “hold the line” on an issue, whether it be same-sex marriage, or for some, women as elders, are we neglecting to consider what might be a more positive way of approaching these issues? Are Christians to be known for what they are against, or for what they are for?

If a church is going to forbid same-sex marriage, it is imperative that a church consider how that community will serve and support those who wrestle with same-sex attraction. If someone in this latter category agrees with the position of the church, regarding marriage as being only between a man and a woman, or perhaps they are unsure, but who remain open to the teaching of the church, how will that person find love, support, friendship, healing, and encouragement, in their own journey of faith, in that community? With respect to ministry to the so-called “LGBTQ” community, what are Christians known to be for?

Likewise, if a church is going to forbid women from serving as elders or pastors, it is imperative that a church consider how that community will serve and support women, who have extraordinary gifts and skills for ministry. Will they be treated as mere “second class citizens,” in comparison to men? Or will women be fully supported and encouraged to use their gifts and skills? What are Christians known to be for?

Too often, churches will make statements concerning an issue, in an effort to “hold the line” against cultural trends invading the church, and completely neglect the pastoral implications that inevitably arise, due to making such statements. When such churches neglect such things, often their statements fall upon deaf ears. In other words, how we say something matters just as much, if not more, than what we say.

Are men and women flourishing together in your church?

Whew! There is lot more I could say about it, but I will leave it at that. For the remaining blog posts in this series, I will circle around the airfield a few more times, so to speak, and then try to “land the plane.”

 

Notes:

1. Sometimes, Galatians 3:28 gets thrown into the discussion: “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus (ESV).” Some see this as breaking down the distinction between male and female, but one must be careful here, not to minimize Genesis 1:27 in the process. The more traditional interpretation of Galatians 3:28, adopted by most modern day complementarians, suggests that male and female are equal in Christ, with respect to salvation; specifically the work of justification. It does NOT mean that male and female can serve in equivalent roles, in the church. More recent egalitarian interpretations extend the application of Galatians 3:28 beyond the work of justification, to include how male and female are to relate together, in the order of the local church.   


“Such Were Some of You”: The Language of Christian Identity

Can a Christian ever call themselves a “sober alcoholic?” Or a “non-practicing adulterer?” A “celibate gay” person?

The controversy over the Revoice conference has died down some, but the main topic continues to provoke earnest discussion among evangelicals: Is it ever appropriate to use the terminology of “single” (or “celibate”), “gay,” and “Christian” within the same sentence, to describe some believers? Does such language inherently betray a compromise of a Christian’s identity, as being founded only upon our relationship with Christ? Or even worse, does it wrongly identify a Christian with their sin?

A driver’s license tells us a lot about a person’s identity, but there is a deeper question for Christians: How should a believer “identify” themselves?

Continue reading


Is the Temptation to Sin, Itself, Sin?

Most Christians know that temptation is what can lead us into sin. However, when we experience temptation, is that experience, in and of itself, sin?

There has been a very lively debate in evangelical theological circles in recent months, on this very question. The occasion for the debate has been the Revoice Conference controversy, the question of same-sex attraction, and how it relates to sexual orientation, lust, and behavior. But the implications are far reaching, as the debate gets to the very heart of how all believers progress in our sanctification.

Sanctification 101: Temptation vs. Sin

As a new believer, back in my teenage years, I struggled intensely, just as almost every high school boy does, with sexual lust. I really needed help in this area, and I got some great advice once at a Christian youth music festival.

The main speaker put it this way: If you see a girl, and you find yourself attracted to her, that is not sin, in and of itself. Instead, that is an opportunity for you to thank God that you can appreciate the beauty of another human being. So, praise God for beauty, but then take your eyes off of that girl, lest you fall into sin! You have been presented with an opportunity to sin, but it is a temptation, for which you can resist, and say no to. In our obedience, God can give us those little victories, as we progress forward in following Jesus, by trusting in the work of the Holy Spirit to transform us.

But if you find yourself drawn to take a second look at that girl, and allow your imagination to run away, then you are in real trouble. That would be lust, and lust would be sin (Matthew 5:27-28 ESV). Resisting temptation at that point is not enough. You must repent of your sin, and seek the Lord’s forgiveness. In other words, there is a clear distinction between temptation and sin, and the two are not necessarily the same. We resist the one, and repent of the other.

That nugget of wisdom has served me well over the years, convicting me at times where I have needed to be convicted of my sin, which is sadly, yet honestly, a continuing difficulty for all Christians, and giving victory at other times, when God gave the strength to say, “No,” and I followed in that obedience.

Sanctification 101 Twisted Around

Strangely though, there are some Christians who seek to turn that simple advice, that I got as a teenager, and flip it on its head. In classic Christianity, marriage between a man and a woman is the sole arena for sexual relations. Any sexual expression, in thought or deed, outside of that, is sin. But a well-intentioned, theological movement, among some Christians, regarding same-sex attraction, in response to challenges from the culture, adds a peculiar, mind-blowing twist.

Apparently, it is not enough for some Christians to reject same-sex relations, either in thought (fantasizing about it) or deed (physically engaging in such behavior). Pay attention to that, as it is important. The teaching goes beyond that.

Consider the words of prominent Baptist theologian, Albert Mohler, (from The Briefing), who gives an otherwise thoughtful, trenchant critique of the tendency to confuse one’s sexual identity with one’s spiritual identity in Christ. He raises some important questions, observations, and cautions, with which I support. Yet despite having a prophetic outlook, and crucial voice in the conversation, in this essay, Dr. Mohler makes this shockingly broad statement: “The Bible identifies internal temptation as sin….We are called to repent both of sin and of any inner temptation to sin.

What are we to make of this?

Repenting of sin, I get. But repentance of temptation?? How does one go about doing that? Was the advice I received as a teenage boy, as applied to thinking about girls, in error?

For such Christians, in a nutshell, the mere presence of same-sex attraction in a person’s life is inherently lust, and therefore, it is inherently sin. Same-sex attraction, awakened by temptation, is surely a disordered desire, a fallen part of human nature, and it can lead to sin, but is it actually sin itself?

Advocates of this view also want to say that all sin is sin, and that same-sex sin is just as sinful as any other sin. But there is a theological inconsistency problem with this view that is very disturbing. You can not have both without twisting what I call “Sanctification 101.”

If you extrapolate that way of thinking out to include all sexual attraction, consistently, outside of marriage, heterosexual as well as homosexual, you reach a very, very strange conclusion. Let me explain, in a few steps, why I believe that this view is misguided at best, a theological error that has far reaching negative consequences, if left unchecked.

It is a lot to unpack, so I will just try to hit the highlights in this blog post, as best as I can. I will put in bold the main points and objections, if you want to skim through first, and come back later to digest. You might put this blog post in the “TL;DR” category. But these are weighty issues where sound bite answers will not suffice. So here we go… Continue reading


What Al Mohler Gets Right … and Wrong … about the Revoice Conference

 

Al Mohler, the president of Southern Baptist seminary, and host of The Briefing, a podcast I recommend, is an important voice in evangelical Christianity, offering moral clarity and biblical perspective on critical, cultural issues challenging the church today. So, it is with some thoughtful hesitation that I must offer a rejoinder to a recent commentary he gave on WORLD magazine’s, The World and Everything in It, radio and podcast program.

In Dr. Mohler’s three and half minute commentary, he expressed grave concerns about the Revoice Conference, a new church conference, being held this week in St. Louis. A look at their website summarizes its purpose, that of “supporting, encouraging, and empowering gay, lesbian, same-sex-attracted, and other LGBT Christians so they can flourish while observing the historic, Christian doctrine of marriage and sexuality.

What bothers Dr. Mohler the most is the rather broad use of LGBT-type terminology and identity language when it comes to sexuality. In particular, Dr. Mohler is alarmed by one workshop session entitled, “Redeeming Queer Culture and Adventure.” He concludes that the organizers of Revoice are trying to embrace something that is, in reality, contradictory. In other words, you can not affirm any redemptive aspect of “queer” culture and at the same time hold to a Scriptural model of sexual morality.

Dr. Mohler has a point here. If I was leading the workshop, I would steer away from the “queer” terminology, as it has such negative connotations in the church today. Furthermore, many Christians are becoming confused as to what to think about gender identity issues. In this respect, Dr. Mohler is totally right. If someone identifies themselves as a “gay Christian,” without clarification, it could be very, very troubling, as our identity should be founded on Christ, and not upon our sin.

Sadly, however, Dr. Mohler’s critique completely misses the reason why the conference is being held in the first place. It is time to set the record straight.

When Exodus International, the largest “ex-gay” ministry in the world, ceased to function back in 2013, it left a huge void as to how Christians can faithfully minister the Gospel with those who wrestle with same-sex attractions, all while western societies appear to be racing towards the legal acceptance of same-sex marriage. Christians can be thankful for testimonies from authors like Rosaria Butterfield and Christopher Yuan, and those in the Restored Hope Network, who despite great difficulties, have found deliverance from their struggle with same-sex desire.

However, not every Christian shares that same set of positive experiences.

A small, yet still significant, group of believers in our churches have been doing everything they can to try to change their sexual orientation, and yet the hoped for deliverance has never come. They have tried counseling, psychotherapy, prayer, parental reconciliation, even shock treatment, and still, they wake up in the morning, still finding themselves attracted to members of the same sex. And yet they honor the Bible’s teaching on sex and marriage.

They feel sidelined by the church. They remain silent in our congregations, fearful of being exposed. How can the church effectively offer the love of Christ, and the support of welcoming community, to these people?

The Revoice Conference exists to try to answer that very question.

Contrary to Dr. Mohler’s puzzling view that the Revoice leaders “want evangelicals to accept LGBTQ identity as permanent,” like trying to pull the wool over our eyes, there are believers in our churches who are trying to figure out how to live the Christian life, when their sexual attractions do not appear to be changing, as Dr. Mohler would expect them to be. Author Gregory Coles is one of them. I have several such Christian friends.

I am not able to attend the conference this year, but I am very glad that this conference exists, as it is an attempt to fill that void with praying people who care about this “sexual minority” group. The thought of hundreds of otherwise silent believers standing together, singing their praise to Jesus, is really exciting!

I probably will not agree with everything being “revoiced” at this conference. Nevertheless, we need to have conversations about this in the church, including between the likes of Dr. Mohler and the Revoice Conference leaders.

But can I make a plea for one thing? When having these conversations, let us please not throw people, who are finding it difficult to flourish in evangelical churches, under the bus in the process. Let us embrace them with joy instead!

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Single, Gay, and Christian: A Review of the Book and Its Criticism

Let me tell you why this is such a great book. Author Gregory Coles has a lot of guts.

In his memoir, Single, Gay, Christian, Coles tells his story, growing up in the evangelical church, loving Jesus, who nevertheless made the slow and disturbing discovery that he was attracted to other men, and not to women. But unlike many of those who “come out” with this self-realization, Coles understands that his sexual orientation does not biblically give him permission to enter into a practicing, same-sex relationship. Yet it does give him a unique perspective to live out a life of committed celibacy, and live that life out to the fullest. This is a story that needs to be heard.

Coles grew up, in what appears to have been a missionary(?) family, serving in Indonesia. Aside from living in a different country, Coles spent his growing up years in an evangelical church sub-culture. But he knew something was different about himself, when compared to other boys in his church youth group. His discovery about his sexual attraction to males was not something that hit him overnight, and he tried his best to change his orientation, to conform to social expectations. He did not fit the stereotype of someone who was “gay.” He did not have a distant, emotionally detached father. Rather, he enjoyed life, loved God, and had a great relationship with loving parents.

Even through college, and into his early years as a church worship leader, back in the United States, Coles’ efforts to become “ex-gay” simply did not work. The hoped for change in his sexual attractions never materialized. Coles had hit a roadblock: Prayer and therapy did not produce the expected results, that many of his Christian friends had promised, and that he himself desired. This is where Coles’ story today gets controversial, at least to a certain segment of the church.

He makes a concerted effort to study the Scriptures, to best understand God’s perspective and purpose for human sexuality. Contrary to revisionist views of homosexuality, that are gaining popularity within liberal-minded congregations, Coles concludes that sexual relations, as through “gay marriage,” is not an option, for someone like himself, who seeks to be a faithful follower of Jesus.

But neither does Coles embrace the “ex-gay” narrative championed by many evangelical Christians, that suggests that “gayness” necessarily implies a certain “lifestyle.” The typical “ex-gay” narrative believes sexual attraction to be merely a choice: a choice that can be reversed through the appropriate therapy, or intense prayer. Rather, Coles seeks to embrace his identity as a celibate gay Christian man, which explains the title for his book. As a single, gay Christian, Coles seeks to explore how his sexual orientation might inform his understanding of who God created him to be.

Coles self-identification as a single, gay Christian will strike many other Christians as being repugnant, or at the very least, confusing.1 After all, our identity as believers should be, first and foremost, grounded in Christ, and not somehow paired with our sin, right? We should never celebrate temptation. Rather we are to flee from temptation. You can be a single Christian, sure. But it would be best to leave the “gay” out of it, or perhaps, embrace something like “ex-gay.” To be “gay” and “Christian,” are mutually exclusive categories. Another book reviewer, “Pastor Gabe,” a Baptist pastor in Kansas, drills down on this as the fatal flaw in Gregory Coles’ book.2

The criticism is fairly common among more than a few Christians. But it is too fixated on semantics and labels, and it makes some questionable assumptions, that need to be challenged. What Greg Coles is talking about is completely different. In this book review, I will try to interact with some of Coles’ critics. Listening to Coles’ story, the “ex-gay” thinking comes across as wrong-headed. We can address some of those questionable assumptions below, but let us first examine the central idea behind its wrong-headed-ness. Continue reading


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