Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Homosexuality, part 3 (see previous 2 posts)

10. I really struggle with some practical issues such as providing health insurance for a committed homosexual couple. A part of me favors this in spite of my conviction about the morality of the relationship. However, I’m not sure I comprehend all the related issues (other groups of people, economic impact, etc.) which may be involved. Should any two people (regardless of gender) who live together in a long-term, non-sexual relationship be granted these benefits? If two heterosexual women share a committed relationship, even adopting a child, but are not homosexual, should they qualify or be given the right of some legal recognition and benefits (we have such a “couple” in our church – 2 ladies who have lived together, not sexually, for 40 years and raised a child—but are not homosexual). How about a parent and an adult child – or three generations -- living together? If one of them qualifies for medical insurance, should the others have a right to be included in the plan? I suspect that this needs to be considered apart from the question of the validity of homosexual “marriage” though I think I understand why many want it to be connected.

11. I really grieve that many of those who hold to the same Biblical understanding as I do about homosexuality have too often been guilty of the sin of hate, unkindness, misunderstanding, discrimination, and even violence. That is deplorable and all Christians should speak out against it. I am embarrassed and ashamed that I have not always recognized this and practiced it myself—at least to the degree I should.

12. I do not believe the United States ever was or should become a “Christian nation” in the sense those terms are typically used. Although our nation was founded on many Judeo-Christian principles, it never was nor should it have been another “Geneva.” The nation of Israel was a theocracy – ruled by God and His law (at least, it was supposed to be). When Jesus returns, He will establish/impose His righteous kingdom on the entire earth. Today, we are called to live as aliens and strangers in this world (1 Peter 1:3, 17; 2:11; Hebrews 11:13; Philippians 3:20). We certainly should impact our culture and our nation by our good works and our values, but we are not called to impose our values or beliefs on others. I would no longer support any part of the view that we are called to make this a “Christian nation” in any sense other than that we want to share the Gospel with everyone in America to give them the opportunity to freely choose to become a Christian.
Homosexuality, part 2 (see previous post)

7. Homosexual inclination is not necessarily sinful. As God’s people (Israel and the church) have always understood the Scriptures, homosexual practice is sinful. When a person struggles with sexual desires (heterosexual or homosexual) which cannot be legitimately fulfilled, there are spiritual practices that can decrease temptation’s power, persistence, and victory (though they will not necessarily eliminate them in every case). I am responsible to engage these spiritual disciplines and practices. I believe that some homosexuals can be “healed” so as to be able to enjoy God’s original creation plan, while others may not be “healed” in this life, but nevertheless are called to a life of purity and chastity. The church should surround those who struggle with homosexual temptations with love, support, respect, and help, even as they should do for those who struggle with heterosexual and other kinds of temptation. This should be in an atmosphere of grace, acceptance, respect, and support of the person – not of the sin, whatever kind. Christians should have great compassion for those whose sexual inclinations must be resisted and unfulfilled throughout their life. It is tragic that some (both homosexual and heterosexual) will never enjoy a relationship for the fulfillment of these longings. We are all broken in different ways and should support each other with our struggles and God’s call on our lives as we await Jesus’ return and the restoration of all things. Hence we pray with passion, “May Your kingdom come!”

8. It is my opinion that the “jury is out” with regard to definitive and comprehensive identification of the reasons for homosexual inclinations/vulnerability. It seems probable that the influences toward homosexual inclinations are diverse and complex, but all expressions of the brokenness of this fallen world since sin entered. Although some may choose to experiment with and become addicted to sinful sexual practices of various kinds (including homosexuality), I suspect that most homosexuals did not make an initial choice resulting in their vulnerability/inclinations. I am certainly open to believing that some homosexual vulnerability may be genetic, even as some people are genetically more vulnerable to alcoholism. This does not eliminate the need to live a pure and self-controlled life in either case. This is not to say that the inclinations are sinful for the individual struggling with them, but that the origin of inclinations contrary to God’s design and will are continuing results of the sin of Adam and Eve, as are many other things in the fallen human condition. It seems clear that not all homosexual vulnerability is genetic, but in many cases springs from other causes – abuse, dysfunctional family, etc. – all of which are symptoms of the fallenness of this world. In these cases, the individual is not responsible for the cause, but they are responsible for their response and choices.

9. Persons are not defined by their “sexual orientation.” They are defined by God and His image. I am not my sexual orientation. I am a person made in the image of God, the object of His love and redemptive plan.

I'm involved in several on-going conversations regarding homosexualilty, the Bible, and our culture, so put down some preliminary thoughts. Please feel free to comment to sharpen my thinking. This is too long for a single post, so it will take two or three.

1. Jesus’ followers, like their Master, should treat all people with love, respect, and kindness, regardless of their lifestyle or beliefs. Jesus showed us the balance of grace and truth. We too often emphasize one without the other.

2. Christians should be agents of justice and mercy in the world—seeking to relieve suffering without being judgmental and standing up for justice for everyone. This will sometimes mean responding to the symptoms of (e.g. hunger, etc.) apart from the deeper causes, sometimes means responding to causes (e.g. lack of education, systemic discrimination, etc.), and sometimes (most preferable) to both.

3. Christians should always affirm, practice, and communicate Biblical truth, even if it is unpopular or misunderstood, because they believe that obeying God’s commands is always for everyone’s ultimate benefit, even though it may involve in temporary pain or suffering.

4. God’s plan for sexuality, consistently communicated throughout the Scriptures (including by Jesus) is for one man and woman to enjoy sexual intimacy within a loving, lifetime marital relationship. The New Testament indicates that the relationship of a man and a woman (not just of two people – but specifically of a man and woman) in marriage is to beautifully portray the relationship of Christ and the church. The Old Testament suggests a similar portrayal by the faithful marriage of a man and woman with regard to the relationship between God and His people (e.g. the story of Hosea).

5. Outside of a committed heterosexual marriage, the Bible consistently calls all humans to lives of purity, chastity, and self-control. The Bible teaches that self denial and suffering are purposeful and beneficial for God’s children. We must all deny ourselves and take up our cross daily to follow Jesus (Luke 9:23) though for each of us that will play out in different ways. Fulfillment of physical desires (of all kinds) is not a right to be pursued at all cost (cf Matthew 4:4 on Jesus and the need for food). My physical desires must always be subjugated into conformity with God’s revealed will – even if that requires self-denial and suffering. As a real human, Jesus most certainly had a powerful sex drive. But, because of His mission was never able to give it expression or find fulfillment in a sexual relationship. He is our example and should give encouragement and comfort to any who must deny the fulfillment of their sexual desires whether heterosexual or homosexual.

6. Every reference to homosexuality in the Bible is prohibitive—there are no exceptions. Recent efforts by some to reinterpret Biblical passages in support of some kinds of homosexual practice do not stand up against the standards of unbiased Biblical scholarship, consistent hermeneutical practice, or the united voice of Jesus’ global church through time. We should always be open to reexamining our interpretations of Scripture but must attempt do so without bias (that’s hard!) and without giving in to external pressures (cultural, governmental, emotional, or personal).

Friday, May 18, 2007

The Justice and Mercy series at Calvary (see www.calvarymuskegon.com) was an emotional series -- even more for those who participated in the breakout sessions during the week in addition to the Sunday services.

God has been stirring in my heart with new insight, understanding, conviction, and compassion.

Most of the responses I've heard have been extremely positive with people growing in their understanding about the tragedies of poverty and racism--not just in the world, but also in West Michigan. Some are seeing the importance of responding to need without also trying to judge or attach responsibility and blame (something that comes rather naturally, cf John 9:1ff). There is a new wave of people committed to growing in justice and mercy.

Perhaps the cummulative effect of (1) the long Book of Acts series with it's frequent mention of ministering to the poor (chs. 2, 4, 6, etc), (2) the "stories Jesus told series" which spotlighted poverty-related themes again, and now (3) the 4-week Justice and Mercy series, have left some understandably weary and wanting to move on to new themes. That's why our next series will focus on 1 Peter, Contentment, and a survey of the Old Testament.

Some are wondering what happened to their pastor...even wondering if he has "gone Liberal" with his new interest in the "social gospel." I haven't. But I have had to repent of having an "unsociable gospel," a perversion of Scripture, which too often didn't address the whole man. Certainly our priority is the proclamation of the Gospel of salvation through faith in Christ. The biggest changes in poverty and racism will come when people experience the transformation of Christ's redemption in their lives. But I now have had the blinders removed (at least in part) that hindered me from seeing the powerful emphasis in Scripture on Justice and Mercy related issues.

Today I was challenged by the "virtually book" Bono has written (with others) at http://one.v1.myvirtualpaper.com/brochure/2007051702.

Read it!

Perhaps some have responded negatively because of God's conviction in their lives of hidden racist attitudes or of a lack of a compassionate and generous spirit. If we are not ready to repent, we typically find ways to excuse, justify, rationalize, or accuse and counter attack.

I certainly am not suggesting that anyone who had negative feelings about our Justice and Mercy series is in this last category. These are difficult and complex issues and we all look at them through the lens of our own experiences and understanding. We are all at different stages of maturity and immaturity.

I was deeply convicted by the prophet's words (Isaiah 58:6-9):

6 “Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen:
to loose the chains of injustice
and untie the cords of the yoke,
to set the oppressed free
and break every yoke?
7 Is it not to share your food with the hungry
and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter—
when you see the naked, to clothe him,
and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?
8 Then your light will break forth like the dawn,
and your healing will quickly appear;
then your righteousnessa will go before you,
and the glory of the Lord will be your rear guard.
9 Then you will call, and the Lord will answer;
you will cry for help, and he will say: Here am I.