Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Can There Be Christian Homosexuals?

Okay, from the get-go, this is not a systematic theology of homosexuality. I don't plan on doing that here. I sort of thought that, being part of a confessional denomination that does not ordain homosexual people, I'd never have to come face-to-face with this issue. But as I daydream about seminaries with good Christian education programs, Calvin Theological Seminary stands out. The problem is this: CTS belongs to the Christian Reformed Church (CRC), a relatively conservative, confessional denomination which, since 2005, allows for the ordination of homosexual clergy. Here's the CRC's official position statement on homosexuality:

Homosexuality is a a condition of disordered sexuality that reflects the brokennes of our sinful world. Persons of same-sex attraction should not be denied community acceptance solely because of their sexual orientation and should be wholeheartedly received by the church and given loving support and encouragement. Christian homosexuals, like all Christians, are called to discipleship, holy obedience, and the use of their gifts in the cause of the kingdom. Opportunities to serve within the offices [elders and deacons] and the life of the congregation should be afforded to them as to heterosexual Christians.

Homosexualism (that is, explicit homosexual practice), however, is incompatible with obedience to the will of God as revealed in Scripture. The church affirms that it must exercise the same compassion for homosexuals in their sins as it exercises for all other sinners. The church should do everything in its power to help persons with homosexual orientation and give them support toward healing and wholeness.

Like many church bodies, they get it mostly right. Homosexuality is a "disorder"--not so much in the sense of a disease (though it may have valid biological associations), but in the sense that in "the brokenness of our sinful world," people have cast God and his truth out of the center. (I love John Piper's analogy that just as the planets' orbits are held in line by the massive gravitational field of the sun at it center, so too do our lives only work rightly when the weight of the glory of Christ is at the center.) The CRC is right in affirming that "Christian homosexuals, like all Christians, are called to discipleship, holy obedience, and the use of their gifts in the kingdom" and that engagement in homosexual practices is against God's will. It's also 100% true that just because someone has struggled with same-sex attraction--perhaps even a lifelong struggle--that they can still be genuine believers and should be welcomed into the fellowship of the church (Gal. 3:28; Isa. 56:3-5).

The real problem is this: The CRC, like many others I'm sure, defines homosexuality as "a condition of personal identity" (see URL above). Though they define a homosexual as "a personal who has erotic attractiosn for members of the same sex and who may or may not engage in homosexualism," the problem exists in the church when people are viewed as "Christian homosexuals" instead of as "homosexual Christians." The issue is one of nature and identity, and it's not just a battle over semantics.

Saint Paul explained to the Galatians that "you are all sons of God, through faith. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neighter Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus" (Gal. 3:26-28). Similarly he proclaimed to the Colossian church, "Here there is not Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free; but Christ is all, and in all" (Col. 3:11). "For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory" (Col. 3:3-4). It's true that faith in Jesus is what defines and unites believers, not sexual orientation. We're all broken, guilty sinners of one ilk or another, justly deserving God's wrath--but instead receiving his mercy and love through the cross of Christ.

But this is precisely where the CRC's logic breaks down. There is no such thing as a "Christian homosexual." This makes "Christian" and adjective describin the noun "homosexual." Thus being a homosexual is what defines a person; it's who they are. But for all of us baptized into Christ, we must acknowledge that "Christ is all, and in all," and that "Christ ... is your life." Our old identities and defining standards according to the world--even according to our own eyes--are dead and buried. We have died with on the cross, and Christ is now our life, our identity, our core being. Christ is in us and we are in him. "I have been crucified with Christ," Paul testified elsewhere. "It is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me" (Gal. 2:20). New creatures in Christ are not homosexuals, and they should not view themselves that way. Yes, our perceptions, how we see ourselves and the world, are very strong. They die hard. But God's Word teaches that they all must go. Paul thus wrote off all he once was and cherished (Phil. 3:3-10). He knew that in fellowship with Jesus, the old way of evaluating ourselves and others from an external, worldly perspective had to be discarded (2 Cor. 5:16-17).

So what this means is that for humans made in the image of God, especially those united to Christ by faith, "homosexual" is an adjective, not an identity. When I was in high school and college, being a cyclist was pretty much my identity. Heck, I even shaved my legs as a badge of my commitment to the sport! (It does feel pretty cool when you slide on a pair of pants.) But I was wrong. Yes, homosexual feelings may be all someone knows, but it's not who he is. In the same way, no Christian is an alcoholic or a sex addict or a compulsive liar or whatever. There are lying Christians, alcoholic Christians, and sexually addicted Christians. But it's not the final word on their lives. If it is, then this is what's true of them: "Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor theives, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God" (1 Cor. 6:9-10; cf. Rev. 21:8). For such people, their sins are their very identity, something that cannot be given up in a life of discipleship to Jesus in submission to his Spirit's renewing work. But for others, Paul can continue with the good news, "And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God" (1 Cor. 6:11). God takes sinners, even "the sexually immoral" and "men who practice homosexuality," and gives them a new name, the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, in whom their lives are irreovocably hidden, with grace-abounding glory to come.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Founded on Better Promises

Ah, summer: muggy weather, mosquitoes, sweet tea, grilling, baseball, and . . . weddings. I went to four of 'em this summer in a six-week span, even standing up in one as a groomsman. Not all the couples were disciples of Jesus, and this was evident in one of the ceremonies. The prayer was made to a generic "God," but not in Jesus' name. And rather than being joined to one another in self-giving love, the vows and readings reflected a very self-oriented approach to marriage: "You can have my love, but you can never have my soul, for my soul must remain free." "You must accept me as I am, not expecting or hoping to change me. It is respect for our individuality that unites us and makes marriage possible."

While this deeply saddened me, for "love is not self-seeking" (1 Cor. 13:5), it gave me peace to know that my marriage with Olivia is "founded on better promises" (Heb. 8:6). We have chosen to embrace our own need for change and death to our old selves and personal desires so we can become "one flesh" in glorifying the Lord Jesus Christ, forever praised; and we know that we need each other as partners mediating God's Word and grace toward that end. We know that we will never part until death, lest we incur God's strict judgment. And we know that sacrificial, giving love is the greatest blessing of all, for in it Christ abides with us. All this really gives me peace, knowing the wholeness and stability it brings to our lives, the shalom reflected in Psalms 128 and 144. So often it's hard to see the joy and rest of embracing the cross and going against the grain of the world, but I sure realized it that day.

I know our marriage vows aren't so wonderful, though, because we are great promise-keepers. Far from it! Rather, we know we can make such commitments with confidence because our own lives have been founded upon the better promises God has made to us and fulfilled in Christ: the promise to forgive us of all our sins, so that we too can admit our wrongs and forgive one another; the promise that we would see our own brokenness and unloving ways, so that we can embrace change and growth; and the promise to be for our good and carry us always, so that we can ever depend on him for strength to love and bear challenges until death do us part.