Theological shock waves have ripped through my social medial circles and through the congregation I serve in the past two weeks. At the center of the conversation, homosexuality. Though in years past many may have considered homosexuality a taboo topic, it is now front and center in society and has a growing audience in the church demanding a response.
These past couple of weeks, there are three stories that have specifically garnered attention that I would like to briefly address: In Houston, subpoenas issued for pastor's sermons regarding gay rights/marriage; Idaho, ministers must celebrate same-sex marriage or go to jail with fines; PUC, new chaplain for the college, Jonathan Henderson preaches, "Adam and Steve." The last seems to be of most interest, so I'll start there.
I have listened to Pastor Henderson's sermon and am now in the process of listening to the other messages in the series. First, I applaud him for having the courage to address such a hot topic in the forum in which he did. I wish more pastors would as well. The subject of homosexuality needs to be addressed because this is not just a social or civil issue, it is a spiritual issue. Unfortunately, it's the spiritual side that is often overlooked and misrepresented. Most importantly, when addressing the spiritual issues, it's important to not overlook related Biblical council.
As I embark on these next couple of paragraphs, it is with fear and trepidation. Over the past several years the homosexual debate has gained traction and is now largely expected to be accepted in societies circles. But it's not just about social circles and friendships. As the circle broadens and gets closer to home, I find myself being forced to take a stand on an issue I'm really not comfortable with. In a nutshell, here's my struggle: How do I reconcile what I know the Scriptures are teaching with the real life situations of my friends and the people who come to my church?
Here is an honest evaluation of myself: I would rather not talk about the subject and distance myself from it. I'm not comfortable with it for a couple of reasons: The Bible calls homosexuality a sin; but I recognize that God loves sinners. I also know that while God did not create in people a homosexual desire, many are born that way. In addition to this there are many more who are born as transgenders who are looking for identity. Then to top it all, I have friends who are openly gay and I know there are openly homosexual individuals who have faithfully attended the churches where I have served and am serving who are searching for spiritual acceptance. So the subject of homosexuality is forcing me to decide how I will respond to people with different inclinations and lifestyles than mine.
But where the conflict really comes in is here: if you tell me that God has called an audible (as Pastor Henderson suggests) and that now homosexuality is somehow an acceptable form of relationship in God's sight, then what then do I do with the Bible? Many in the world want to undo Leviticus saying that it's the Old Testament and is outdated. Okay, but what do I do with Romans and 1 Corinthians and Paul's council to Timothy? There is a common theme in both Old and New Testaments, and if we maintain that as Adventists we are people of the Book, then this is not something I can reconcile in my theology or practice.
So do I call homosexuality a sin? Or do I assume God called an "audible" because so many people today are born with different tendencies?
So I will take a stand. I believe the Bible teaches that active participation in homosexual acts is sin. But I also recognize that my statement, though true, doesn't help those who are conflicted about their sexuality or orientation. And my pontificating about their sin doesn't make them want to trust me as a spiritual leader either. So let's deal with the issue--sin. Sin is never neat and clean, it's always messy. So though we'd like it to be black and white, we've got to understand it won't be.
I believe it's possible to call sin by its name and still be a loving and caring pastor. After all, "we've all sinned and fallen short of the glory of God." I like how Tony Compolo says it while reflecting back on the Jim Bakker televangelist fiasco: "The difference between Jim Bakker and the rest of us is that they haven't found out about the rest of us yet. This is no time to distance ourselves from Jim Bakker, but to acknowledge what was in him is in us all" (Adventures in Missing the Point, p. 222). Then later he says, "What Christ has done in my own life does not make me a better Christian than you are, but it does make me a better Christian than I was.... When I am honest with myself and take a good long look at my dark side, I can find no basis for condemning others" (p. 223).
How Seventh-day Adventists treat and relate to homosexual individuals on a corporate scale needs to change. There are far more stories of mistreatment and abuse than of acceptance in Adventist circles. So in this regard I would stand with Pastor Henderson. The only way we are going to reach people with the love of Jesus if we ourselves are loving and forgiving. How can those who are struggling with their sexual identity see Christ if all they see and hear are our criticism and judgments? When they are in church, there is a chance that the love of Christ will shine through and convict the hearts of all present of areas of their lives they need to grow in.
That said, I'm still not okay with membership and leadership in the church for those who are openly practicing a homosexual lifestyle. As I heard a John Lomacang say at Camp Meeting this past summer, "There is no standard for fellowship. However, there is a standard for membership, and a higher standard for leadership." It's not about fear or misunderstanding people. It's about honestly seeking to follow the Biblical councils in the church.
Getting back to Pastor Henderson's sermon, some of the examples and illustrations he used were a bit of a stretch. I don't agree that David and Jonathan had a sexual relationship. Scripture doesn't even imply it so to use it as a point to build a case for homosexuality is inappropriate. I understand that we all have same-sex relationships and friendships that aren't of a sexual nature. Some years ago one of my closest friends died of cancer. I felt the sting of loss. I felt a part of me died that day too. And I still miss him. I think I get how David felt when Jonathan died. But to suggest, or even think, that it was possible that there was sexual activity between the two when it's not even implied in the Bible is a stretch and takes liberty with the text.
But perhaps for me, the biggest issue I saw with Pastor Henderson's sermon was where it ended. When he finished it was almost as if he said, "If you're gay, that's okay." And while I'm sure that's not what he intended to do, it is what came across. But that's not what the Bible teaches. It teaches that when I come to Jesus, I become different. Things don't stay the same. Jesus doesn't leave anyone where He finds them. He lifts them up to His standard and His ideals. We are not at liberty to bring God's standards or the Church down to our politically correct and selfishly motivated agendas.
I know someone personally who lived openly in a homosexual relationship for years. He was with the "love of his life." But as he began to seek Jesus out, His desire for Jesus and His righteousness began to overrule his desire for his personal wants and pleasure. He says that his journey out of the homosexual lifestyle was one of the hardest and most traumatic events of his life. Yet, he wanted to be faithful to God. Today, years later, he admits he is still tempted by men. By the grace of God, lives in a happy heterosexual relationship. So while God may not have changed his DNA composition, God did change his heart.
No wonder the Apostle Paul could write, "If any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold all things are become new" (2 Corinthians 5:17).
In short, let's call sin by its name. But let's also understand that we have ALL sinned, and fallen short of the glory of God.
NOTE: The comments posted below were posted on the original blog before I moved it to this current location...
Thank you Pastor. My grandfather and my father were both alcoholics. The DNA road of disposition toward alcohol was under construction before I was born. The first taste, the first smell and I was in "love" with alcohol. It was God's love and His grace that brought me to another kind of Love. All I know is the more I seek Him and the more I love Him, I am changed. 2 Corinthians 5:17 - is my life long journey. God is love! and eternity is not enough time for me grasp this reality. Teach me to Love.
Thank you for your thoughts. I completely agree. I know that as a group the people tend to accept certain sins but not others. Society still has sins that are not accepted, but people are still "born" with that evil/sin. Love the sinner, does not mean acceptance of their sin.
A very balanced biblical approach to the homosexual discussion in the church, in my opinion. This is a very hard issue, because in our hearts we do not want to exclude anyone. The church has never claimed that only Seventh-day Adventists will be saved. Everyone is welcome to fellowship and worship with Adventists whether they are members of the church or not. But membership in the Adventist church must be defined by a biblical standard, which excludes practicing homosexuality. God can save anyone outside of the Adventist church that He chooses.
Pastor, thank you for this post. My wife and I watched pastor henderson's sermon on Friday night and at its conclusion were nothing less than shocked. Shocked that he went to the lengths he did stretching scripture to fit his message, and shocked that our pastors are purporting a progressive system of biblical interpretation that brings the Almighty down to the level of sinful humanity. I too struggle with the approach Christians, and particularly Adventists should take. The answer "love the sinner, hate the sin" is correct, but unfortunately that doesn't provide much insight into how we can relate to those of the LGBT community. The secular world has painted those who stand against the ad hoc acceptance of homosexuality in any form as bigoted and ignorant, and I believe we as a church need to come to terms with the realities of the world we live in. Sticking our heads in the sand and pretending that homosexuality doesn't exist, or believing our black and white assessments of those who struggle with those tendencies accomplish nothing. We can truly love those who struggle with this by laying open our own struggles with sin. If we were to stop pretending we are better, perhaps the spirit in which we associate with homosexuals would be different. Perhaps a big dose of humility is what we need not just regarding this issue, but any sins we harbor and struggle with.
Thank you for the courage you have displayed remaining faithful to the word of God, and calling all to repentance at the foot of the cross.
Thank you for a well written commentary and for most of all staying true to the Bible. There's an unnerving trend in the Adventist church lately to water down or simply throw out all or parts of the OT. It's going to take courage and God's wisdom to navigate through this issue......and many more to come. I too have worked with and known many gay people and have found that while enjoying their company, sometimes immensely, my friendliness too often led to the assumption that I also condoned their sin. While, like Paul, I claim to be the chiefest of sinners, that doesn't excuse me from calling sin by its right name, no matter how unpopular it may be. We will be turned against, lied about and misrepresented even with the most gentle methods and kindest intentions because it's not society we're fighting but legions of evil, fallen angels bent on destroying all that God stands for. What a world this has become. It's time to go home.
Yes, we must love the sinner, and hate the sin. This is a difficult work (EGW). But Romans 1:16-29 is clear that gayism is contrary to their "nature," so it is NOT in their DNA, it is in their minds. Reread this passage in different translations. If one is born male it is the natural instinct to mate with a female, not another male. All humans are born with sexual desires, which God designed in their natures. But the placing of those natural desires upon one of the same sex, or a dog, or an artificial humanoid sex doll IS NOT IN OUR DNA, it is a thought that first enters our minds. It's an evil thought and if indulged and cherished and fostered it becomes sin. If they would bring every thought in to captivity to the obedience of Christ then they would not try and fulfill their sexual desires with that which is contrary to their nature and sexual design God made them with, be it with another man, an animal, or artificial sex object.
Sexual desires are in our DNA, but meeting those natural needs or fulfilling those desires with another man is a perversion of what a man is. I'm going to exaggerate here to make a point; A telephone pole (or anything for that mtter) can arouse somes sexual desires, but just because a telephone pole turns somebody on does not mean that is in their DNA to mate with telephone poles or that this is their sexual orientaton. If they are born with male reproductive equipment their sexual orientation is towards females, not males, and is so by nature! If this is not the case, if it is not the gospel truth, then what God says in Romans 1, that these people turn the natural use into that which is contrary to their nature, must be false. This we cannot accept. Stick with what God has said while still loving all sinners as God Himself has done.
Thank you for taking a stand!
Very beautifully said.
Love the sinner, not the sin.
But have to agree with the comment by Richard Mendoza, it's not in their DNA and they are not born with homosexual desire. This is most likely just a manifestation of demons influence, happening even early in life, then making a convincing lie about where this desire comes from..
Something most people never give much thought to is the fallen angels, they are everywhere, all around us, and they don't rest. I believe they are the cause for most if not all of our evil deeds/wrong doings.
I have a long time acquaintance who is both a practicing minister and a homosexual. His chosen lifestyle took him out of the SDA fellowship and membership, but not out of his belief in God's grace and redemptive plan for humanity. Like you I am uncomfortable speaking out further, when we both know there is a chasm of perspective and faith between us. What strikes me most clearly is that each of us need to be an overcomer of the besetting sin which the Holy Spirit convicts us individually of.