December 15, 2017

David Fitch Recommends Taking “No Position” on LGBTQ Relations

Blue Lovers, Chagall

Blue Lovers, Chagall

Introduction from CM
A couple of pastors I admire in my denomination have impressed me with how they have responded as church leaders in light of the ELCA’s decision regarding homosexuality in 2009. This is going to sound counter-intuitive, but they both basically decided to ignore it. They did not make a big deal about the matter in their respective congregations, did not preach about it, did not hold special meetings to discuss it. In personal encounters and official meetings, they downplayed its impact on the church, and tried their best to go on preaching Christ, leading worship, visiting with people, providing personal guidance to their people, business as usual.

What is interesting is that one of these pastors was in favor of the decision, the other opposed to it, but both determined, pastorally, that they would not allow an emphasis on this to harm their flocks. In contrast, at least in this region where I live, ministers who raised the issue to a prominent level of public debate saw troubling consequences: church splits, departures from the denomination, broken relationships and painful schisms.

Were the pastors who downplayed the matter copping out? Or showing pastoral wisdom?

I found the following article from David Fitch arguing for the latter and giving good reasons why churches should try a different approach in dealing with people who are participating in the alternative sexual mores and practices of our culture. As you will see, David’s suggestions reflect both his Anabaptist theology and his heart for the church to be engaged in vital, Christ-centered mission to a post-Christendom world.

David is B. R. Lindner Chair of Evangelical Theology at Northern Seminary in Lombard, Illinois. He is also  the founding pastor of Life on the Vine Christian Community– a missional church in Chicago’s northwest suburbs. He blogs at Reclaiming the Mission. Thanks to David for allowing us to re-post this piece.

* * *

One of the best discussions I’ve had in a long time happened on Facebook over the weekend. It was a discussion about the “dreaded” issue of Christianity: the church and LGBTQ sexual relations. The discussion started with my statement which was something like:

To the question “what is your position on LGBTQ?” I think the best answer (in these times) is “we have no position.” The question itself misses the point of any other answer.

To which I got good fruitful pushback from all sides. I was “abnegating!” I was doing the equivalent of “standing aside and being silent during the civil rights movement.” “There is no neutral on this!” some said.

From this discussion, I came away with four points that need clarifying as to how/why someone would say “we have no position.” To me these four points push us as Christians (no matter what sexual issues we are involved in at this time) towards a new posture toward alternative sexualities that opens doors for mission and God’s Kingdom to break in.

Read and then tell me what you think.

 1) To declare a “position” (publicly) forecloses the most important decision.

By taking a non-position in this question, we are not merely feigning neutrality. We are refusing to either single out a particular person’s sexual brokenness as an issue above others, or act like there is no sexual brokenness at all in any of us. In effect, we are rejecting what “taking a position” does. Instead, our position is that we ALL are in some way or another sexually broken and moving toward maturity in Christ and this means that we all submit our brokenness to the healing and reconciling work of Christ in the context of Christian community.

When we take “positions,” we buy into anti-relational conceptualizing distancing dynamics which thwart God’s Kingdom. By refusing to make an apriori judgment against anyone, we are in essence saying the only prejudgment is that we are all sexually broken and we come seeking redemption. And if you are sexually whole and have no need for redemption, you are blessed. But we, who are broken, come relationally as real people in real situations to submit together to what God is doing in and among us.

This to me is the opening of space for God’s Kingdom to break in on any issue.

Lovers in Moonlight, Chagall

Lovers in Moonlight, Chagall

2) To declare a “position” (publicly) reinforces sexuality as an “identity marker.”

Taking a position on the LGBTQ issue, cements it as an identity marker, before anyone has even had a chance to discern that. It feeds the political ideological conditions that make possible making sexual orientation an identity. So, evangelicals who make public statements about their position of not affirming LGBTQ relations, are in effect reinforcing what they deny. They lift LGBTQ as above other sexual issues, and make it the one issue. (I call this turning it into a Master Signifier). Likewise, the progressive Christians do the same when they lift up LGBTQ relations as a banner issue, ignoring all the other sexual issues of our time. They in essence do what evangelicals do. This works against God in Christ doing anything different among us and our sexual lives.

In essence, by playing into the elevation of LGBTQ as a “position,” we cement the status quo firmly in place with all its antagonisms. The state of our sexual lives, including any and all sexual pathologies that may exist among us, is now static, unmoveable and firmly in place. We get nowhere. There is no open space for sexual redemption.  On the other hand, to not take a position, in effect creates space for a whole new conversation, a space for a new dynamic (what I would seek as the Kingdom of God).

Sadly, my guess is, neither side wants this.

3) Taking a “position” can only inflame, thereby separating us from mission.

Posting one’s “position” (any position) as Christians to outsiders in a culture which does not understand who we are or why we do what we do is “communication-suicide.” It can only be misunderstood as judgment and hate. Instead, we must have a compelling way of life, a richness to our sexual purposes, as displayed in a way of life (the way we marry and have children, and the way we incorporate singles into families) from which to speak to others about God’s redemptive work in sexuality.

People in these post-Christendom days in the West need to be on the inside to make sense of our thick descriptions of God’s sexual order. This means the church in the West must first cultivate our own sexual faithfulness as a way of life. For instance, Christians do not believe sex is for self-satisfaction or personal-fulfillment. It is for mutual self-giving and ultimate pro-creation. The fact that this does not make sense to the outsider (even in our own churches) means that the church must first live this, and then from this embodied witness, communicate it to people we come into contact with us who ask “what manner of life is this?”

Again, we should focus on witness and refuse to take “positions.”

 4) In mission, I only use the word “pathology” to describe my own sexual stuff.

When I am living and intersecting with real people, or discussing sexual issues, I do not discern sin in other people’s lives when I do not know these people, when I am not in relationship with them and I have not lived “with” them. I should refuse to take such “positions” mainly because

  • I do not even know these people, and
  • They do not even know what I might mean by the word “sin” even if I did know them.

Instead, I will only name sexual pathologies of my own life. I will testify of my own story of redemption. This is “witness.” I also will commit to sitting with people in my own Christian community whom I know and love, who share somewhat in the language and story of Christ, and can participate with me in the naming of sexual “pathologies” when we gather to mutually submit to the Spirit in prayer. This is good and important work, the in-breaking of the Kingdom as well. But here we have the language and posture to receive the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit in His Kingdom.

Other than these situations, I refuse to name other people’s sin. This kind of work comes only after being “with” people.

* * *

For all these reasons, when I am asked “What is your position on LGBTQ sexual relations?” I respond by saying “I don’t have one.”

What say you?

 

Comments

  1. If nothing else, abstaining from taking a position is, in this case, a whole lot less stressful than taking one seems to be. But deep down, much as I’m in favor of less stress, it feels like a cop-out. (Doesn’t mean it is one, just means I have to work through it in my own soul.)

    • That’s because the status quo is hugely favourable towards the conservative action: in the vast majority of churches gay people cannot be married or have their relationship blessed, they cannot be ordained, sometimes even not buried or have their kids baptised. This is not balance, this is injustice.

    • Ray, I agree it seems like a cop- out. We do not celebrate lying, murder, eating to much, stealing ect. While I believe homosexuality is a sin I also believe it is just another sin of many. The difference is that with homosexuality we are being asked to bless, affirm, and celebrate this action. We can argue scripture all day long although even Bishop Robinson will now say the bible speaks against homosexuality. His answer is that after 2,000 years the Holy Spirit is doing a new thing. You just can’t escape Romans 1 or the answer to Sodom in Jude verse 7. Jesus gave us the answer for marriage. A man will leave his parents and be joined to his wife and the two shall become one. I can’t find anywhere the notion that marriage is only about love and commitment. If that were the case I could list several situations where this would still be sin. I also agree with the person who said sooner or later one will have to get off the fence. Our priest tried the ” we won’t discuss it approach “. That was until two men in our church wanted a blessing and marriage. The church is now spilt and we are left with 30 members and have been reduced to mission status. I have vowed to stay and try to be that faithful voice with the remnant we have. All this could have been avoided if people had not demanded rights that the government can grant but the church does not. You have only to look at the Episcopal Church !!!!!

    • I was about to take a position on what the article is saying, then decided it best not to “buy into anti-relational conceptualizing distancing dynamics.”

  2. Shouldn’t the question be: does God’s word require us to take a position on this? After all, who cares what position we take if we aren’t speaking propheticallly?

  3. I think we have to name other people’s sin (using God’s law) or they (we) won’t be exposed for who and what they (we) really are…real sinners.

    We are all in the same boat. Sexual sins may be particularly difficult…but they are sins nonetheless.

    Being born that way doesn’t erase it, either. We are all born liars…but that is no excuse for continuing to do it…but we do, anyway.

    • But where do we stop in the naming of others’ sins? And if they are outside the church should we even start, if they are living peaceful lives? (1 Corinthians 5:9-13)

      This can’t be compared with slavery, or with Naziism, where silence on the matter did contribute to the problem.

    • Christiane says:

      finger-pointing is NOT the way to go . . .
      it never was and it never will be

      think about the Pharisee and the Publican

      and pray the ancient prayer:
      ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner’

  4. DaisyFlower says:

    It’s me, Daisy, from Wartburg Watch blog, using “Flower” as my last name here now.

    Anyway. The American church is messed up on sexual teachings across the board, whether we’re talking about homosexuality or heterosexuality. I can’t help but notice this because I (brief bio here) am a Christian female, in my early 40s, who has never married, never had sex, though I wanted to get married, and yes, have sex (and I am hetero, attracted to males).

    Most American churches are obsessed with (hetero) married couples and kids, ministering to them, and protecting “The Family,” and so if you are a married Christian (with kids) you probably don’t notice as much of the insanity and weird teachings about sex, or how marriage is placed on a pedestal, as the never-married adults do.

    The treatment and attitudes about sex is all over the board in contemporary Christianity. I see some denominations, or specific preachers, who either stress sex all the time (it’s all they ever sermonize about), ones that minimize sexual sin, and ones that pretty much ignore the whole topic while their unmarried hetero members sleep around all over the place.

    From my vantage point… I’m not sure it matters what churches say or don’t say about sexuality (whether we are discussing homo or hetero), whether it will cause anyone’s behavior to change.

    In some books I’ve read about how American churches (mis)treat singles past the age of 30, the authors make the intriguing observation that even in conservative evangelical or Baptist churches whose official position is “no sex outside of marriage,” that, in practice, a lot of their (hetero) singles are having sex anyhow and these churches either don’t notice, or they do, but refuse to address the matter.

    A preacher refusing to publicly state a position one way or another on homosexuality – is the real motive here to deflect controversy and conflict?

    It might work, and it might also upset people on both sides of the debate. You might have some Christians who would expect a church/preacher to speak out strongly against homosexuality, while others would want you to speak in favor of it (or the legalization of homosexual marriage).

    • Daisy Flower…..Bless you for your sharing. YOU, whether you know it or not, are a shining example of true and integrated sexuality in a Christian. You have not met the man you wish to marry (if that is God’s plan…not everyone marries, and is no less a full Christian adult) you are chaste. Period. That is what God calls us to do.

      I have been married for almost 35 years. My sexual expression is limited to this one man, despite the number of attractive men I have known over these decades. Due to health issues, we are experiencing a long spell without physical intimacy……and it has not killed me.

      For those of us who are Christian, these are the two options….chastity, or marital relations between spouses (as a Catholic Christian, I would add relations that are open to life, but I understand other views). Homosexual sex is wrong, as is heterosexual sex with someone not one’s spouse.

      • Hey Pattie,

        What’s worse? Monogamous homosexual sex or the raping of children by those who are supposedly “chaste”?

        • Cedric Klein says:

          Because THAT of course has to be the choice. *rollseyes*

          The rest of this page could be filled with comments from the Phelpses & that will be the most homophobic thing said on this page.

          • If you’d read a little more slowly and think a little more clearly, you’d see that my comment is quite the opposite of homophobia…idiot. Let me be a little more clear for you: homosexuality is not wrong. Pedophelia is wrong. My question: what do Catholics say is the worse sin.

            You get it now?

          • Cedric, I wasn’t saying that was the only choice. If you knew anything about–you don’t–you’d know I’m pretty close to the opposite of homophobic. What was trying to ask is this: what do Catholics see as the worse sin: gay sex or clergy sex abuse of children.

            Next time, be a little slower in jumping to conclusions 🙂

          • This notion that the priestly celibacy requirement drives pedophilia is the biggest factless canard going right now. But it’s an easy trope to toss out in lieu of thoughtful discussion. Studies have shown that Catholic priests actually committed sexual abuse in numbers that are basically indistinguishable from Protestant clergy (who can all be married and usually are) and in numbers far less than the population at large or other professions such as public school teachers (who can likewise be married).

          • In addition, the vast majority of the Catholic priest accusations did not involve children at all. The term would be ephebophilia as it usually involved teenagers or post-pubescents. That doesn’t excuse it but it does make it a more accurate description than “raping of children.”

          • Seriously Bryan, I have no argument that “this notion that the priestly celibacy requirement drives pedophilia” is a “canard.” (It’s going a little too far to call it “the biggest..canard,” which I would argue works against “thoughtful discussion,” but I guess you never claimed to have no double standards 🙂 )

            Like I said with HUG, why is everyone refusing to answer the question and jumping to wild conclusions?

          • Last I heard, your Children are actually statistically safer in the Roman Catholic church than they are in a public school. But you know what they say about statistics.

        • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

          How long did this posting last before the first “CATHOLIC PRIEST PEDOPHILES! PEDOPHILES! PEDOPHILES!”?

          Because we KNOW all those Papist Priests are FAGS and child rapists, unlike the Born Again True Christians of, say, Sovereign Grace Ministries and/or Calvary Chapel.

          • Actually HUG,

            (by all means, correct me if I’m wrong) I haven’t seen anyone say “CATHOLIC PRIESTS PEDOPHILES!…” Your brand of humor on here is occasionally amusing and frequently misses the point. Again, here’s a fair question that I would ask Catholics and evangelicals alike: what would you, who call homosexuality a sin, say is worse: monogamous gay sex or child sex abuse. I singled out Catholics because Pattie is Catholic, but thank you for pointing out the bit about the same problem going on in Protestant churches. The same question applies.

          • Batman, the conversation is about whether to take a stand on adult gay relationships. Don’t hijack it into pedophilia and the Catholics.

          • Hey Ken, I saw your letter. Congratulations on your engagement to Twiley.

      • cermak_rd says:

        From Pattie:

        “For those of us who are Christian, these are the two options….chastity, or marital relations between spouses (as a Catholic Christian, I would add relations that are open to life, but I understand other views). Homosexual
        sex is wrong, as is heterosexual sex with someone not one’s spouse.”

        Is this true though? Can this teaching (mostly from Paul, the OT is not nearly as hostile about sex between non-married and non-betrothed people) be separated from the patriarchy of the time of Paul’s writing?

        Now that we live in a post-patriarchal society, does what Paul states still hold? Once you wipe out the worldview undergirding his epistles, does his logic still stand? And the same is true of the church that approved the canon of the NT. They held a specific worldview that no longer exists. At what point does that disappeared worldview affect the teachings?

        I guess I think of it like the temple in Judaism. Once that was destroyed, it could no longer be the centerpiece of Jewish worship and a great many laws were essentially made unfollowable. The Jews adapted. And today even if by some miracle the temple mount was ceded to the Jews and they were able to rebuild the temple only a small proportion would ever offer animal sacrifice again. Most would be repulsed at the concept because they live in a different world with a very different worldview.

        • Seriously???

          Sorry, can’t do much but shake my head.

          Next argument…does the sun still rise in the east???

          • cermak_rd says:

            I’m actually being serious here, and this topic has been picked up by some Christian thinkers (emergent mainly). To what degree can Paul’s teachings be separated from his worldview. Paul had a series of assumptions that undergird his teachings. In mathematics, when you change an opening assumption, you frequently have to redo the entire proof. So if you pull out patriarchy with the concept that women and girls are to be subject to men, then I think you might have to redo the proof to get to Paul’s conclusions.

            The reason it was considered bad behavior to go about debauching virgin women was because those women were subject to a man, whose honor was being harmed. The no longer virgin woman would be less likely to ever be able to marry because the man who would marry her would have his honor hurt by not being able to receive her virginity. If you’ll notice, an awful lot of this looks a lot like the rampant misogyny of many lived out interpretations of Islam (I’m not convinced that Islam is 100% to blame here, I think it’s the deadly embrace of a misogynistic culture (say in the ME and Pakistan) and Islam being too tied to the culture to be able to critique it.

            But the fact is, in the West, we don’t live in that world anymore. Thank goodness.

          • Once again, Pattie blindly believing Catholic theology while demeaning and questioning the intelligence of anyone who disagrees.

            Sorry, can’t do much but savor the supreme irony.

            Next argument (or lack thereof)…does the sun still set in the west???

          • @Batman..

            Believing…..absolutely!

            Blindly………not at all!

            Peace, my troubled friend.

        • What if patriarchy comes back? It has a disturbing tendency to do so, and I for one am actively supporting groups that seek a return to a more patriarchal, sex-role explicit society. Will Paul’s arguments then regain validity?

        • It depends on your view of Scripture. The nature of the book is a bit mysterious, seeing as how people with divergent perspectives all hold it to be inspired by God AND written by men. How the two intersect and interact is seldom agreed on. If Paul had room to insert his misogynist opinions, then sure, it’s irrelevant. In that case, is there anything in the whole darned book that some culture can’t decide is irrelevant? It’s back to cafeteria religion, building a God in our own image, reducing the Bible to a pretext to say what we want to believe anyways. But if God is truly the author (and let’s asume for the sake of argument that this God is actually God, and by virtue of his being never says “oops”), then I don’t see much room for negotiating with how HIS opinion might be wrong about something. His very nature is the antithesis of wrong, and his words are the very essence of right.

          • Danielle says:

            This is a false dichotomy though, isn’t it? Trying to understand Paul’s words within his context and worldview allows us to ask about their meaning and trust. The idea is to get at the teaching — not to disregard it. Likewise, the attempt to ask how society has changed and what, if anything, that has to do with application isn’t ignoring the teaching. This kind of approach can be used to slip the noose, so to speak; but it also the path toward putting on the yoke.

            We know for example that in a cultural system where women had virtually no power or independence at all, it is quite notable that Paul should urge women and slaves to fulfill their designated roles as best they can, while commanding masters to act more like servants. We can move from this observation to ask who, today, is the same position as a first century “wife” or “slave” and who is in the position of the “master”? The extent to which gender roles are unchanging (if they are) or have remained similar may help to determine the answer. In any case, even if we are in grey area on things like this, even if you and I come to very different conclusions, we are left with plenty to confront us: one is to accept the responsibilities one has; one is to be servant to others; the point of living a life guided by gospel-inspired love is to look out for the other person self-sacraficially, and not for ourselves. Even if we get something “wrong,” that teaching alone is enough to chase us to the end of our days and push us closer to God’s kingdom.

            BTW.. I do not mean to open up the can of worms by mentioning gender roles. It is just one of many useful examples of a place where the waters get murky.

        • Patrick Kyle says:

          cermak,

          Here’s a great idea, why don’t we just discard the Scriptures entirely and replace them with whatever ideas we can pull out of our posteriors? This is what your view advocates. Under such a philosophy any part of the Scriptures can be done away with. Why even value them at all if this is the case?

    • Isaac (or possibly Obed) says:

      Good word, Daisy. As an unmarried guy in his mid-30’s, I can definitely relate. I pray that when I do get married I don’t fall into that same pattern as is all-too-often modeled with that idolization of marriage and family.

    • Daisy: I am a married man, have a 35 yr old single daughter who loves the Lord, and is tortured by what is taught publicly in the evangelical christian churches she has attended. Its all about marriage, raising children, marriage and children, marriage and children. I have one thing to say about your comment here, amen, amen, amen and amen.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

        It’s called “Salvation by Marriage Alone.”

        All the rest of us can go to Hell.

    • From my vantage point… I’m not sure it matters what churches say or don’t say about sexuality (whether we are discussing homo or hetero), whether it will cause anyone’s behavior to change.

      From your vantage point? I suggest that your observation is the objective truth. In fact, I suggest this goes far beyond issues of even sexuality. Preaching against sin does NOT cause sin to go away. It never has, it never will. Homiletics should start here like AA starts with admitting the problem. If you tell somebody enjoying sin that they shouldn’t be doing it, all they’re going to take away is that they don’t like what you’re saying, and they probably don’t like you either. The Law has no power to change the mind or heart of a sinner. It brings death and increases wickedness. It takes a miracle from God to convict a sinner and bring about repentance.

      • +1

      • Ali Griffiths says:

        +1. I meet a lot of sinners who deny this is what they are doing/thinking is sinful until the Holy Spirit convicts them – I include myself in this category.

      • “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work.” 2 Tim 3:16 ESV

        “For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.” Heb 4:12 ESV

  5. TimothyR says:

    it isn’t possible to talk about these topics from a Christian perspective because we have lost the language. We no longer accept the transcendent – ironic for Christians, of all people – and we have completely lost the reality of transcendent masculine and feminine and the meaning of sex and gender. It is completely gone.

    We speak only in the debased language of materialism and the crude degradation of the formerly noble language of civil rights. We have lost our assurance and are terrified of not being seen as ‘loving’. So we swing wildly between hypocritical judgment and attempts to be loved.

    We have ourselves to blame. We have accepted the idea that people can be discussed in terms if their sexual desires and attractions – and then go on to carry on endlessly about that one topic, judging yet withholding the image of transcendent life. There is no noun ‘homosexual’ in the Bible. LGBTQ indeed. We use the terms of the age and then we are surprised when we are tripped up by them. They are not ours.

    The mainstream churches have already collapsed as they have on all these topics, and I speak as an Episcopalian until very recently.

    The mainstream churches are falling apart – the Episcopal Church is the same size it was in 1939 – and they are still shrinking. Yet they continue to try desperately to be politically and culturally correct. The problem now is that no one cares.

    Now evangelicals are pitifully following the same pied piper. I have even seen references to gender essentialism and the evil patriarchy and other absurdities – but as usual they are too late in their attempts to be acceptable.

    The only answer is to return to the essentials of the faith and this will only happen in the wilderness. Read St. Patrick and the conversion of Ireland. That will be the pattern for the future. It will mean extraordinary suffering and sacrifice and repentance and learning to listen again. But there is no other way.

  6. I’m not convinced. One example:

    “When we take “positions,” we buy into anti-relational conceptualizing distancing dynamics which thwart God’s Kingdom. By refusing to make an apriori judgment against anyone, we are in essence saying the only prejudgment is that we are all sexually broken and we come seeking redemption. And if you are sexually whole and have no need for redemption, you are blessed. But we, who are broken, come relationally as real people in real situations to submit together to what God is doing in and among us.”

    OK, ignoring the ridiculous pseudo-manager-speak gobbledy-gook of ‘anti-relational conceptualizing distancing dynamics’, he’s saying that we won’t take a position, because we believe that we’re all sexually broken. How can he even make that claim if he can’t or won’t define what is/is not included in ‘sexually broken’? It is no good merely saying that we’re all broken. How do I know I’m broken in this area? What does that look like? To borrow from pop culture, how does anyone begin to communicate this to someone who ‘is on the right track, baby, I was born this way’?

    In fact, if we are so concerned with ‘distancing dynamics’, why take a position on anything at all?

  7. Carol T. says:

    Eventually some gay couple is going to want to get married in that church, and Rev. Wishy-Washy will have to answer with either a yes or a no.

    • That’s a +1 from me, Carol.

    • Ah, another one of the many problems of sacralizing special use buildings….

      T

    • Richard Hershberger says:

      I can’t say as how I am impressed by this position either. Even were there no moral imperative either way, this position only works to the extent that one is not called upon to either act or refuse to act. What I take away from this is that LGBTQ is not an issue that particularly interests him. He wants to be able to get on with his ministry without having to deal with this distraction. This is defensible inasmuch as it isn’t directly relevant to his ministry, in much the same way that a position on abortion is pretty much beside the point of a ministry feeding the poor. But this only really works with LGBTQ if there are no actual LGBTQs in the ministry. There almost certainly already are, though they may be closeted. This is likely to change, and sooner rather than later.

    • Snark aside, the two Lutheran pastors I mentioned would, at this point at least, answer “no,” explaining that there are important matters to consider for the church’s well being that would not make that wise at this point in time. One of them, who is affirming of gay relationships, may eventually change that to a “yes.” The other, who is welcoming but not affirming, I assume will continue to say “no.” However, both of them will determine not to make this issue a public matter of controversy.

      The point is to let the church be the church and not get co-opted into political agendas.

      • Isaac (or possibly Obed) says:

        The idea of not taking a public position really appeals to me because of what you said in your last sentence, CM. Also, my default is to shy away from confrontation. I know that my denomination has already decided for me that we would not perform a same-sex marriages or marriage blessings or whatever, so that part’s a non-issue for me.

        My question (for myself as a minister) on taking such a non-stance in public would be whether I’m being silent so that the Gospel can shine instead or whether I am giving into that fleshly default position of people-pleasing via confrontation avoidance of which I am so inclined.

        I honestly don’t know.

      • Chaplain Mike-
        What do we do with Paul’s difficult passages about confronting sin and, if necessary, putting people out of the church if they continue in blatant sin? It seems silly to have to point this out, but this really is a serious question I have. I just worry that we are disregarding biblical teaching about pointing out sin in favor of not making waves. Paul was clearly aware of his own sin and desperate need for grace, but he did not let that lead to a refusal to confront others’ sin. In fact, he may even argue it is because of his own recognition that he needs a savior that he felt so strongly that others need to see that as well. Thanks, in advance, for your reply.
        -Josh

        • I think it comes down to the word “blatant”. To me that has to do with something be potentially disruptive to the body. If a gay couple is simply coming to services in church, chances are that most of them will not be wanting to draw attention to themselves. I think, though, if there was a couple who was doing something very disruptive, then it would need to be dealt with. Essentially, it would have to be a case per case basis.

          Ironically, when I was a campus pastor, one of the few times I had to deal with someone regarding a potentially sinful issue, it was with a straight guy who kept on hitting on several of the single women in the group. It got to the point where was just being creepy. So essentially, we told him to leave. Most of the homosexual people I’ve dealt with who’ve come to services or functions have actually been pretty respectful.

          • Wow, gay people can be respectful?

            Sorry to snark, but come on. Of course they can be respectful. How the church handles, this, or any other issue, doesn’t depend on how good people seem to be to us. All are sinners. The church’s message is the Bible’s message. According to the Bible, the choices of a Christian are to be celibate and single, and use that freedom to serve God in your vocations, or to be married and raise children. Why do Christians buy into the absurd notion that a robust sex life is a better way to love God and love neighbor than that?

          • Phil M-
            Fair enough. “Blatant” was maybe too strong a word. But, the question holds. I’m not in any way suggesting the church go headhunting for “sinners”. Just asking a question. Is the position to ignore particular sins in order to avoid confrontation or criticism an acceptable position, biblically? I know that our sensitivities in our modern culture is to “live and let live”, but I wonder if Paul would do the same. Would he advocate ignoring the situation, or would he feel that ignoring it would send the message that sins need not be addressed? In order to accept grace one must be aware of their need for grace. I have many things in my life that I am not proud of, and want to change. I would not advocate ignoring those things because I would be afraid that attitude would, eventually, lead to me feeling that I no longer need grace for those sins because those are sins that “no longer need to be addressed in modern culture”.
            -Josh

          • Sure, Boaz, we’re all sinners. I was never disputing that fact. I was just replying to the question of when a particular sin needs to be dealt with more forcefully in a church. All I was saying is that most homosexual people I’ve encountered are not activists, and most of them aren’t trying to be disruptive to churches.

            I think the main difference when it comes to homosexuality is that we don’t treat it like just another sin. We treat as something that totally defines a person. I think that’s why this issue is difficult.

          • Josh,
            I don’t know about your own personal experience, but personally, I’ve heard homosexuality condemned from the pulpit quite often. So I don’t feel like the issue is that preachers are afraid to call this particular sin for what it is. To me the issue is that there is a laser-like focus on this particular sin (that doesn’t actually affect the vast majority of the congregation) and not on the sins that do affect us.

            Even if you look at an issue like pornography the way churches handle it is different than homosexuality. There is a certain amount of shame associated with porn, but if a man confesses to using porn, people will probably be pretty understanding of his struggle. If a man confesses to being attracted to men, he will likely be ostracized. That’s just my experience.

          • In reply to your last post on this reply thread, Phil M-
            I see your point here. Makes sense. Thanks for the responses.

      • cermak_rd says:

        Would they refer someone in their parish who wanted a commitment ceremony, civil union, or marriage to an affirming congregation? Because that strikes me as the best way to maintain everyone’s conscience without hurting any actual people. Here in my area, there’s an affirming Lutheran church that actually appears to be considerably to the left of ELCA on this matter (at least it was at the time it was formed). They provide ceremonies to those directed from other Lutheran churches (I had a friend married there a few weeks back), who then return back to their regular churches after the wedding. In this way, it keeps the peace in the original church and the affirming church doesn’t suffer any problems because all of its members are supportive.

        • “Affirming” of what?

          • cermak_rd says:

            Affirming of LGBTQ couples of course, though this specific congregation uses the term reconciling.

            This wouldn’t work for Catholics, but don’t you think that in a Lutheran setting this would work well, where a chosen LGBTQ positive church performs weddings for couples from less LGBTQ positive churches? I mean, it already kind of works that way because people move to different churches, but this results, in my opinion, into an unhealthy segregation of viewpoints. Having the married couple return to their original church seems to be a better way of dealing with making sure that no actual people get hurt and also making sure the churches don’t self-segregate into ideological blind alleys.

        • I’m sure they might consider that option. I think I would.

      • State recognition of gay marriage is political, so that’s a separate issue and Christians can disagree.

        Marriage as something considered good or sin, is not political. It is Law, God’s created order, that exists outside and before the state and politics. It is the means God gave us to have and rear children. It is the only context in which sex serves the greater good. Sex outside marriage, without any effect of strengthening or forming family, is merely selfish lust.

      • “Welcoming but not affirming,” eh? That sounds like something I could go with.

      • Richard Hershberger says:

        Historywill not look kindly on this attempt to keep the church out of politics.

        If there is one thing we can all agree on, it is that everything ties in with baseball. I am a specialist in 19th century baseball, so I naturally hold that everything ties in with that specifically. So here is a story:

        In 1867 the Pythian Base Ball Club of Philadelphia applied to join the Pennsylvania State Association of Base Ball Players. This provoked much controversy. Why? Because the Pythian was a “colored” club. Its second baseman was one Octavius Catto, who had raised a colored regiment to defend the state during Lee’s 1863 invasion of the North, and who after the war successfully lobbied the state legislature to integrate Philadelphia’s trolleys. Clearly he was a troublemaker. He had some white support in his application, including Thomas Fitzgerald, the owner of an influential newspaper and former President of the Athletic Base Ball Club of Philadelphia. Fitzgerald had stumped the state for Lincoln in 1860, before it was fashionable. In other words, also a troublemaker.

        It turned out, however, that Fitzgerald wasn’t influential enough. After his best lobbying efforts failed and he realized he didn’t have the votes, he persuaded the Pythians to withdraw their application rather than suffer the indignity of having it rejected. Later that year the National Association of Base Ball Players took up the question of colored clubs, and resoundingly voted to not allow them, or any club with any colored members.

        The interesting thing is that the widespread explanation for these events was not that they hated darkies. Keep in mind also that organized baseball at that time was almost entirely a Northern phenomenon. The reason that was widely stated to wide approval was that the question was political, and they didn’t want to introduce politics into baseball.

        It is blindingly apparent today that they didn’t have the option of avoiding politics. The decision to exclude blacks was every bit as political as would have been a decision to include them. Excluding them merely disguised this by mostly offending only the least powerful members of society. No one today looks back at that decision and nods in agreement with the wisdom of keeping politics out of baseball. People don’t even think well of Fitzgerald from this episode. The only ones who come out of this looking good are Catto and his fellow Pythians. What happened to Catto, you ask? He was assassinated a few years later for voting while black.

        So here is my prediction: a generation from now, if not sooner, attempts to keep the “political” question of LGBTQs out of the church is going to look very much like attempts to keep the political question of blacks out of baseball. The best hope for those holding this position today is that is will end up as obscure as is baseball of 1867.

    • I live in Maine, where same-sex marriage is now legal. One suggestion by a pastor is that he perform only the church ceremony of a couple (a straight couple) but that he have nothing to do with the civil marriage license, and leave that up to the couple, the town office, and the state.

      As far as the law is concerned (and this WILL be coming to your state), we need to get our heads around the idea that there are two marriages going on: the ceremonial marriage before God and his church; and the civil, legal marriage that involves a license from the government—something like registering your car or signing a mortgage.

      The time may have come where each kind of marriage should have nothing to do with the other (or at least recognize the difference if pastors continue to sign the licenses). I’ve been hearing a lot of shouting from both sides and it’s clear that this isn’t understood yet.

      • On some level, there always has been two marriages going on, they just happened to be done by the same person most of the time. My wife and I had to go to the county courthouse to pick up our marriage license, and my Dad (who’s a pastor and married us) signed that certificate after the actual wedding ceremony. So from the people’s perspective who were at the ceremony, we were married once we completed our vows and my dad said, “I now pronounce you man and wife”. From the state’s perspective, it wasn’t official until the license was signed 30 minutes or so later.

        • cermak_rd says:

          In our case, I don’t think we were legally married until that license was received and filed by the County Du Page.

          Funny story, we were married at a church we didn’t attend because my partner’s brother is a priest in an Old Roman Catholic sect. So we got our license at the County Cook courthouse (a real zoo!) and told Tom we had got our license, whereupon he chuckled and said great, but the church is in the County Du Page. So we had to go get one from there. Fortunately we had got it in plenty of time because there is a 24 hour waiting period for marriages (you get the license it isn’t valid until the 24 hours elapse.).

          So we bring the Du Page license, he signs it and files it with County Du Page and a few months later we get a document stating that our marriage isn’t valid because the certificate was never filed! Once we figured out it was from the County Cook, it all made sense.

          • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

            In our case, I don’t think we were legally married until that license was received and filed by the County Du Page.

            Du Page County, Illinois?

          • cermak_rd says:

            Yep, Du Page county, IL. The wedding was in Lombard. We, however, live in the county Cook. And naturally assumed Lombard was in same.

        • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

          From the state’s perspective, it wasn’t official until the license was signed 30 minutes or so later.

          “The job’s not over until the paperwork is done.”

          • From the Catholic Church’s perspective, it wasn’t official until the couple had sex after the ceremony. The jobs not over til . . ..

      • This has been the way it has been in many European countries for quite a while: you get married in the local government offices, then go to the church (if you want) to be married by your priest / pastor.

        It seems like a fine compromise to me, but one that I don’t think many churches in the US will have to make, given that many of the laws regarding same-sex marriages make it clear that churches and ministers can marry or not marry people in accordance with their church’s rules.

    • Ali Griffiths says:

      It’s not just having to give a definitive answer regarding marriage. We can welcome everyone into the church but when it comes to handing out leadership or teaching roles then every minister has to come up with a response. It’s easy to say don’t have a position on something when you don’t have to be the one making those decisions.

  8. I think Fitch’s point is well worth considering–and it is much the same point that Schaeffer made in the 70’s and Hauerwas made in the not distant past.

    When we as either churches or individual Believers “take a position” we are allowing ourselves to be co-opted into the political argument and mindset which is purposefully intended to be divisive. That argument is not rooted in the basis of the Gospel which is reconciliation with God through Christ. Therefore the political argument is antithetical to the Gospel. I think Fitch does of good job of explaining that reality.

    T

  9. Robert F says:

    All well and good until the national church leadership decides to authorize rites for same-sex blessing, or same-sex marriage in states where it’s legal, as my own church, the ECUSA, has; then there can be no neutrality on the issue, because the churches will be called upon to positively participate in supporting what some in the pews may think of as sin. I’m with the progressive inclusion position on this issue, wanting to see GLBT people fully included and blessed in all aspects of church life, but I don’t think taking a position either way can be indefinitely avoided as the facts on the ground develop, no more than churches taking a position on slavery could be avoided in the pre-Civil War North as the situation unfolded. And I do think the two issues, slavery and the inclusion or exclusion of GLBT people in social and/or church life, are related.

  10. I understand his point, and normally I would agree. But, there is an additional problem here. Pastors in most states perform two roles in marriage, both a religious role a secular role. This is a unique feature of marriage. With upcoming Supreme Court rulings, I believe every pastor is going to have to decide whether to perform both roles.

  11. You are to be highly commended, my Lutheran brothers. Whether you know it or not, you are following a time-honored Orthodox practice. As far as this poor layman can tell, the Orthodox Church follows this counsel on many issues; contraception, Pelagianism vs Augustinianism, Creation Science vs Theistic Evolution, even the particulars of the Holy Mysteries.

    There is no need to seek controversy, nor to speak more plainly than is necessary for the salvation of souls, but this appears to be an effort to use the coercive power of the State to force the acceptance of sexual existentialism on the Church.

    It may not be the hill we want to die on, but it may well be the hill we will be put to death on.

    • That, IMHO, is a very wise way to do things. One of the many downfalls of the Catholics and the evangelicals has been to have a dogmatic position on damn near EVERYTHING. It gets a bit exhausting to listen to after awhile.

    • Thank you. And your words have made me that much more interested in the Orthodox Church.

    • So an Orthodox priest will give the Eucharist to a gay communicant who he knows is a sexually active? The priest wouldn’t expect him to go to Penance and at least acknowledge that,even though he may fail, the penitent needs to cooperate with grace in overcoming his behavior?

  12. “My own stance in preaching on homosexuality has taken shape in the midst of friendships. As a professor who teaches preaching, I have considered many times how to help me preach on homosexuality, and it begins with this instruction: just don’t do it.”
    — Valerie Bridgeman

    http://www.theafricanamericanlectionary.org/pdf/dialogue/JustDontDoItUntil_ValerieBridgeman.pdf

    • A good place to start with might be with Timothy Kurek’s book The Cross in the Closet http://www.timothykurek.com/

      I met Mr. Kurek in Dallas this week when he spoke at a local church. His book is being translated into multiple languages around the world (and his life has been a whirlwind of travel overseas and across the country as well), and per his FB posts they’re working on a screenplay for a movie. Though he probably wrote his book mostly for the non-/anti-gay reader, I know from talking with some gay Christians that it has impacted them as well.

      Tolle lege.

    • This is an abdication of the pastor’s role. You preach the Bible. If you preach on the entire counsel of Scripture, sexual morality will eventually come up and that includes homosexual conduct. To avoid it out of fear of offense is a cop-out.

  13. CM, I wrote a post about the issue a while back, and instead of regurgitating my thoughts, I’ll post a link…

    http://homiliesprayersbread.wordpress.com/2012/07/20/the-great-we-vs-them/

    Thanks for an interesting, thoughtful piece.

    • I commend Lee’s article to all of you.

    • Lee:

      A couple thoughts on your article:

      You wrote:

      …The United Methodist Church has long taken the stance that they welcome homosexuals into their congregations, but that they do not consider the homosexual lifestyle to be in accordance with Holy Scripture….

      I’m not really writing this to debate whether homosexuality is a sin…I believe that scripture is clear that it is.

      I think a couple good things that Justin Lee via his Tumblr page and his book TORN can accomplish is first of all to get people to stop using the phrase “homosexual lifestyle.” After all, if there is a “homosexual lifestyle,” that implies that there is also such a thing as a “heterosexual lifestyle,” which when you say that you realize that the term is somewhat absurd. I.e., what exactly is a “heterosexual lifestyle”? Do all of us here who are heterosexuals have the same “lifestyle”? I don’t think so. ISTM that “homosexual lifestyle” is a euphemism for same-sex sexual activity, though some might use “lifestyle” to also mean the stereotypical promiscuity and partying that is considered to be a feature of gay persons’ lives – overlooking the fact that this is true of multitudes of heteros as well.

      The second thing is to delink the term “homosexuality” (i.e., same-sex attraction) from actual same-sex sexual acts. While the traditional reading and translation of some biblical passages is to label or regard same-sex sexual activities as a sin or sinful, I think it may be misleading to say that scripture is clear that “homosexuality” – i.e., being sexually attracted to one’s own, rather than the opposite, gender – is a sin.

      For the above and other reasons, I think persons who haven’t yet read Justin Lee’s book should do so. It may not be a “game changer” as some have labeled it, but if you’re wanting to informed re: the popular conversation in the church re: LGBTQ issues, it’s certainly one book worth reading.

      • Eric…

        While I may not be as up-to-date on the latest cultural semantics as I should be, I think the meaning behind what I was writing was pretty clear. You do make a good point, though…There are many sins I am drawn toward, but don’t necessarily participate in. Thanks for educating me in that regard.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

        I think a couple good things that Justin Lee via his Tumblr page and his book TORN can accomplish is first of all to get people to stop using the phrase “homosexual lifestyle.” After all, if there is a “homosexual lifestyle,” that implies that there is also such a thing as a “heterosexual lifestyle,” which when you say that you realize that the term is somewhat absurd. I.e., what exactly is a “heterosexual lifestyle”? Do all of us here who are heterosexuals have the same “lifestyle”?

        I’d like to ditch the word “lifestyle” completely. Whenever I’ve heard it used, it means some sexual behavior, usually kinky.

        And ditch “GLBT”, “LGBT”, and “LGBTQ” for an acronym you can actually pronounce. (“Gill-bit”? “Ligg-bit”? Not gonna even try the “Q” ending…) Only one I’ve come across that’s actually pronounceable is “QUILTBAG”, and I have NO idea what it stands for. (Probably some catchall term like “BATF”…)

  14. His whole point comes down to “whistling past the graveyard” thinking. Who is is that is pushing the GLBTQ discussion. the Church? No, of COURSE not! It is those who identify WITH the GLBTQ agenda because they are pushing, not for “equal rights” but, for official recognition. If the Church does NOT talk about this, at least occasionally, then they are tacitly allowing the conversation to be directed in only one direction.

    This is not to say that we should obsess about the subject because, honestly, gluttony is a much more prevalent problem in most churches and, for the most part, male/female relations are much more pressing. BUT…it IS a subject that NEEDS to be addressed at some point.

    By the way, when did “transgender” sneak into the conversation, and what the heck is the “Q” all about? I’m assuming that “Q” stands for “queer” which, I guess, means those who prefer to move about with flamboyant , mixed sexuality affectations. One (transgender) is a deep psychological problem, and the other is ABSOLUTELY a lifestyle choice! Born this way, INDEED!

    • I don’t think so, Oscar. I think he is saying we welcome people who want to come among us into real relationships in our communities, where we can talk about these things in a better context. And that we all focus on bringing our relationships and sexuality to Christ, rather than making everything about us and various agendas.

    • Phil M. says:

      Who is is that is pushing the GLBTQ discussion. the Church? No, of COURSE not! It is those who identify WITH the GLBTQ agenda because they are pushing, not for “equal rights” but, for official recognition.

      A few years ago, I would have said this is the case, but anymore it seems to me that many of the advocates around the gay marriage issue are people for whom in reality it doesn’t actually have much of an effect on their lives. On Facebook, for example, there are plenty of people who grew in the church, who are straight, married with kids, etc., and some of these people are the most vocal surrounding the issue.

      I really think what we’re seeing is a pushback to years of outright hatred from the church. Certainly not every Christian treated homosexuals poorly, but there have been plenty of times when we have stood by quietly while these people were abused and ostracized. I just think people who grew up seeing this are finally getting sick of it. So I think a lot of the support for the issue comes not simply from people thinking gay marriage is a good thing, but it’s from people who are sick of the culture war and the casualties that came along with it.

    • Queer is the catchall for all the other people who don’t fit in the acronym, such as the intersexed (which is most certainly a condition of birth!) There are plenty of quiet, completely NOT flamboyant queer people. You have met them and simply don’t know them well enough to know this particular fact about them.

    • Isaac (or possibly Obed) says:

      I have unfortunately seen a lot of the issue being pushed in churches. I’ve seen it be pushed to the front by both theologically liberal/progressive churches and theologically conservative who have made politics their driving force.

      One of the big challenge for my denomination (Anglican Church in North America) is that there is a number of folks who are just homophobic ex-Episcopalians who are perpetually pissed off at the Episcopal Church. That’s not a healthy way to be. Fortunately, that seems to be a shrinking number.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

      By the way, when did “transgender” sneak into the conversation, and what the heck is the “Q” all about?

      I grew up in Sixties California car culture. To me, a “tranny” is what fits between the mill and driveshaft of a muscle car.

      I’m assuming that “Q” stands for “queer” which, I guess, means those who prefer to move about with flamboyant , mixed sexuality affectations.

      And through sloganeering, forever associated with “Here, Queer, and IN YOUR FACE!”

    • cermak_rd says:

      Q is usually meant queer, as Tokah stated, but it can also do double duty and mean questioning. Some people honestly don’t know what their sexuality is. And some have essentially none, that is they are sexually attracted to no one of any gender or sex. Since they are usually celibate, these folks could easily fit into any Christian church, but they still might identify as Q because of their unique sexuality.

      • Radagast says:

        Assexuality?

      • cermak_rd says:

        I don’t think people usually use that term for people (asexual) because it has a specific meaning in biology, implying a specific form of reproduction.

    • Oscar….the “Q” is for “questioning”…….I guess not all homosexuals who are “born gay” figure it out right aw

    • Damaris says:

      In the 60s and 70s, “navel-gazing” was the term used for useless and self-indulgent introspection. Well, now it seems as if our culture is gazing a bit further down, but the results are the same. Yes, “sexual orientation” is a genuine issue, but there are so many other issues in life. I spend as little time thinking about someone else’s sexuality as I do thinking about their master bathroom decor. I would be offended if someone was thinking about my sexuality instead of thinking about my words, talents, actions, or even taste in clothes.

      It seems we have to name everything these day, another result of useless and self-indulgent introspection. Do I have to have a name for my kind of sexuality? For my generation? For my favorite music? For my state, political persuasion, temperament, or skin color? I find people who lead a quiet life, work with their hands, and think more about others than themselves a lot more interesting than those who insist on defining themselves and others into smaller and smaller categories.

      And most of the categories are less than helpful. The university where my husband works wanted to identify safe places for GLBTQ students to go if they were being mistreated or threatened. My husband’s response was, “Sheesh! ANYBODY who felt threatened would be welcome in my office and could expect my defense. Do I have to establish first that they are maybe G, probably Q, and possibly (this semester) B?”

      Sorry to rant. I don’t mean to dismiss the tragic tangles that all of us struggle with when tempted to sexual and other sin. And I realize that I am not a pastor having to make a decision. Still, I yam what I yam — annoyed by and deeply compassionate toward those who want to live in a pigeonhole.

  15. Michael Z says:

    My denomination (the Evangelical Covenant Church) nearly split about a hundred years ago over the issue of infant vs. adult baptism. But instead of splitting, they came to a point where they were able to say, “We hear serious, committed Christians among us arguing both sides of this issue, backing up their positions with Scripture, and holding those convictions as a result of much prayer. This is clearly not a black-and-white issue, and the Bible may not give us enough detail to answer it definitively. So we’re going to take the position of being open to both sides.”

    Homosexuality seems like the same sort of issue. There are some people (on both sides) who treat it like it’s purely black-and-white, but I think most people who are being honest will admit otherwise. If God doesn’t want people to be gay, why are “ex-gay” ministries generally so ineffective in changing who people are attracted to? If we believe that God can bless a second marriage and turn that into a source of God’s blessing to that couple even though it wasn’t God’s original intention, why can’t God do the same with a gay couple? And what does it say about our churches that we won’t say a thing to encourage heterosexual couples to be chaste outside of marriage, while hounding even chaste homosexuals out of the church? Could that indicate that maybe we’re deceiving ourselves when we claim that our hostility toward homosexuals is purely rooted in a desire to see people living chaste lives?

    So, I like the idea of a church not taking a position, not out of a desire to not ruffle feathers, but out of genuine humility, recognizing that it’s hard to know what side to take and that choosing the wrong side would be disastrous. I also like the idea of churches supporting all people who are trying to live chaste lives and when appropriate, even challenging those who aren’t – as long as there’s not a double standard there.

  16. I hear what he’s saying about making this “the one issue,” which is a bad approach.

    However, what I struggle with is this…it seems to me that for some reason we are treating LGBTQ as something special, something different, something wholly other than any other thing under the heading of “sexual activity.” I have a hard time imagining any scenario where a church that takes Scripture seriously would respond with a “no position” stance if the sexual activity in question were something like:

    – A man tells you that he’s not married, but lives with his girlfriend and they are sexually active. He wants to follow Jesus. He understands that Scripture seems to say sex is supposed to be for married people only but he thinks maybe that’s outmoded or he just thinks a wedding isn’t necessary to confirm their love is real. Should he continue as he is or either get married or stop having sex with his girlfriend?

    – In counseling a couple that recently came to church and wants to become Christians, they admit that they have practiced up to this point an “open” marriage. They are committed to each other long term but allow one another to have physical relationships on the side from time to time. Is this wrong as long as both of them are honest with each other about it and they remain committed to each other overall?

    I could go on with other scenarios but the bottom line is that it seems to me that in all of these other situations, when the question is posed to us, we would gently but honestly instruct or inform them of what the Scriptures and what 2000 years of Christian teaching and understanding says about these things. Rather than a “no position” statement, we’d tell the man in the first scenario about God’s design for sex and the context for it and that while you don’t doubt that he and his girlfriend love each other very much it’s still not what He knows is best for them. Again, gently, the position would be that they should decide if they want to be together for the rest of their lives and if so, get married. But if they aren’t sure yet, they should stop having sex and probably find their own apartments until they decide that critical question. For the couple in the second situation it would be similar. The sexual act is something that’s reserved for just them, exclusively. Marriage is not only an image of God’s relationship with all of us but following the parameters He has laid out for the thing (sex) that He created will ultimately be far more fulfilling than what they are doing.

    But for some reason that I can’t quite grasp, when it comes to LGBTQ issues, we become what comes off to me as timid…afraid to take a stance, afraid that teaching what the Bible says will offend, afraid we’ll push people away even if we speak the truth about sexuality and how it is to be expressed with all love and gentleness. I don’t quite get why we would treat this is some other separate deal and refrain from speaking truth to them.

    • Phil M. says:

      Perhaps the LGBTQ issue gets different treatment because Christians themselves have set their big guns on it for years and years. At generous estimate, homosexuals makes up 10% of the population (in reality, it’s probably closer to 5%), so you would think that the preaching against sin would be commensurate with the threat a given sin poses. But it’s not. I have heard more tirades against homosexuals from pulpits than I care to remember. I have heard some of the worst jokes in my life come from the mouths of Christians talking about homosexuals. That’s the issue.

      From my perspective, because of our hatred toward homosexuals, the church has lost any prophetic voice it could actually have. It’s time for us to shut up, be humble, and actually love those who we believe are our enemies.

      • JSturty says:

        I think this is exactly right. Through the years, the church has handed it off on this issue and let culture carry the ball. Homosexuality was wrong because it was generally accepted in society that it was wrong. We had and still have our proof text passages which we pulled out to support the culture. But have we really done the significant exegesis and theological reflection necessary to deal with this issue when we no longer have the culture to block for us? For the culture is indeed changing. There may be several naked reverses we have to be putting into our game plan.

      • Radagast says:

        Hate is a strong word. I am sure there are fundimentalist churches twho preach that. The vast majority, especially in today’s society do not. I belong to a tradition who accepts the homosexual but not the behavior. In my personal life I know folks who are hetero and those who are homo. What they do behind close doors is their business. The church is full of sinners. But if someone comes up to me and tells me they are cheating on their spouse and I should accept it… well guess what my response would be? It wouldn’t be “Throw the person out of our Church”. But in the same context I would not respond with affirmation. If they were seeking my opinion I would give it and tell them I believe their behavior is wrong based on the tenets of my faith. But we all struggle togther with sin.

        My only beef in this is the other extreme, made possible because of the recent tolerance and acceptance of the homosexual lifestyle, and that is that I must accept the behavior or be labeled intolerant. A recent example of this occured at GW University where a Catholic Chaplain working in a portion of the university labeled for Catholic activities was put under pressure of losing that position because a couple of activists said his stance on homosexuality and gay marriage was offensive to them (he’s a Catholic priest – what would you expect?). Now that I could see as an issue.

        • Phil M. says:

          Well, I hope you are correct regarding the “vast majority of churches”, because I do not think “hatred” was too strong of a word for how many Christians I knew growing up treated homosexuals. It wasn’t so much how they treated them face to face even. It was the joking and making fun of them behind their backs.

          I grew up hearing the homosexuals had been “given over to a depraved mind”, and because of that they were looked at something like animals. Indeed I have heard homosexual behavior compared to the behavior of animals many times.

          • Ironically, these days scientists are doing the same thing.

          • Radagast says:

            One of the points mentioned here is that Homosexuality becomes something that defines the person instead of a behavior whether that is intentional or not. A man who lives in an open marriage does not define himself as such. Two people living together outside of the bonds of marriage do not become that. It is a behavior. Hence the church contains both of these sub-groups and yet we look at the behavior as a sin rather than the individual because the individual is not defined by the activity.

            I am a heterosexual, yet I don’t think about it much, I don’t feel the need to announce it. In actuality, those who I know from the gay community are not announcing it either. And in that we can then talk about all those things we share in common relationships, hardships, joy. When the tag is put in place the dividing lines go up. And I believe they are in place more from an activist perspective. Kind of like I’m a person and your a person and we have common interests until an activists reminds the other guy he’s black and I’m white… extreme example but the same.

            I will admit openly here…there will probably never come a time when I will say to my children, you have a choice to define yourself hetero or homo… I will probably always consider the behavior wrong. But that does not mean I cannot love those indulge in that behavior or struggle and not act.

      • Radagast says:

        Phil M.

        “Perhaps the LGBTQ issue gets different treatment because Christians themselves have set their big guns on it for years and years.”

        I believe we are talking about this issue because the lifestyle has gotten much more airplay in the media and on primetime shows than ever before with the emphasis of normalizing the behavior and bringing it into the mainstream. Good or bad I have watched the change in the attitude of youth because of this. I teach religous education classes and as part of the curriculum I have discussed this over the last 16 years and attitudes have changed dramatically in parallel with the changes and attitude with shows these kids are watching (and especially within the last three). I say this not as pro or con but just as observation.

        In my tradition we just don’t spend a lot of time on this, we just understand what we believe.

    • Michael Z says:

      The difference in the examples you gave, vs. the LGBT situation, is that your examples are of people choosing between non-chaste sex and chaste sex, not between sex and celibacy. So some better comparisons, which show that things aren’t always black and white, would be:

      – A divorced member of the church has started dating someone new. He isn’t sleeping with her and doesn’t plan to unless they end up married. Do you support him, or do you ask him to leave that relationship because Biblically, he cannot marry her without committing adultery?

      – An engaged couple who are living together outside of marriage ask the church to marry them. Do you turn them down (because their relationship does not meet Biblical moral standards) or do you support them in their desire to make that marriage commitment?

      – Someone comes to your church who is dating a non-Christian. Do you demand that they leave that relationship?

      • Why is the idea of living a chaste life so incredibly difficult to fathom??? It is not a deadly disease….

        • cermak_rd says:

          Well, possibly because it isn’t particularly pleasant. Due to similar issues as you mentioned earlier, I live chastely, and honestly, I regret that I didn’t live it up during my college years and actually engage in an active sexual lifestyle.

          I would never sentence anyone to living chastely, unless that was something they honestly wanted to do (e.g. Roman rite priests). Certainly I would frown on using social sanctions or the law to force people into an unwanted lifestyle.

          • Radagast says:

            The grass is always greener….

            I am watching my 17 year old daughter walk the line as we speak. She is surrounded by friends who are doing it. And are they happy and having the time of their life? Well for about 30 seconds maybe. For the rest of the time they are fighting off the guilt, or being talked about, or being left and feeling like crap for being used… yeah, sounds like fun, except that it is also doing some damage. She gets a lot of pressure from these same people, because they don’t want to be alone in their decisions. And she is seeing the other side of it too… the pain (and sometimes the disease). And guess what? She is the one sought after for the proms because the others just fell way too easy and aren’t worth taking (because they were just needed for some quick pleasure).

            So I’m with Patty on this one. And though I pray for my daughter each night, her observations of what the payoff is will help her to hold her own for a little while anyay.

        • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

          It is when The Right to My Next Orgasm becomes a Constitutional Right that cannot be infringed. Which is about the attitude we’ve got on the outside.

        • Phil M. says:

          I don’t think it’s just the idea of chastity that’s the issue though. The problem is that most people simply don’t want to go through life being alone, and in America the way people generally avoid being alone is by coupling up with someone whether it be marriage or perpetual dating. And the Church really doesn’t do a good job at disputing the notion that the only way a person can live a fulfilled life is by finding their “soul-mate”. If anything, it perpetuates it. So a lot of people assume that being called to a life of singleness means being called to a life of loneliness. I don’t think this has to be the case, but it’s an area that the Church needs to do something about. Most ministries for singles in churches seem to exist for the purpose of eventually getting people paired up.

          • in America the way people generally avoid being alone is by coupling up with someone

            Great observation. This may be a bigger part of the problem than anybody is giving recognition.

        • Oh sweet, dear Pattie,

          Let yourself be human for just a few seconds. Don’t you remember what it was like? Empathy?

    • Final Anonymous says:

      Bryan, here’s where I personally began to have a problem with the finger-pointing about homosexuality in the church:

      I have known about multiple “open marriage” situations in the church. SEVERAL. Some involved one spouse and acceptance rather than consent on the part of the other, but most involved both spouses and agreed-upon amounts of openness with each other and consent. The churches involved ran the gamut between extremely conservative and slightly right of center conservative.

      A few of these couples were “open” enough that several of us knew what was going on, and I’d have to conclude the pastors did, too. Yet the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy seemed to rule the day. It was not talked about openly. it was not preached about. As far as I know, none were involved in counseling of any kind, and certainly not pastoral counseling. Most were considered upstanding members of the church; several were pet “favorites,” and yes, some served in leadership and ministry in the church (none ordained).

      Why does this kind of sexual activity with married heterosexual couples not hinder their acceptance or participation in the life of the church, but admitting a homosexual attraction does? Both are supposedly condemned by the Bible, so it’s not just a “biblical” issue. Could it be, like in secular culture, that homosexuality is the sin or issue du jour, as the article implies? Certainly the fear, anger (CAPITALS FOR EMPHASIS!), and sarcasm the issue provokes, even on a fairly compassionate forum such as this, might make us wonder whether our own hearts are contributing to the division (speaking generally).

      And if there is a possibility of that, wouldn’t the position of “no position” be the best choice, until we as a church can get our own house in order?

      • That’s just bizarre to me. I’ve been in ultra conservative to somewhat conservative churches and can’t think of one of them that would DADT an open marriage or other sexual sin that way.

        I don’t think the solution though is to (as someone else mentioned) not preach about same-sex acts or other sexual morality issues and I don’t believe that “no position” is workable either. You preach the truth with gentleness and love and you don’t single out same-sex issues from overall sexual morality as described by Scripture.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

        Why does this kind of sexual activity with married heterosexual couples not hinder their acceptance or participation in the life of the church, but admitting a homosexual attraction does?

        Because (paraphrasing Malcolm X) “Homosexuality is THE Bright Red Murder Flag for the Christian.”

        The Unpardonable Sin. The Unpardonable SuperSin that WE have Absolutely NO Chance of EVER Committing. The Ultimate Things Which the Goyim Do. The Ultimate Other.

        Just look at the number of comments that have accumulated. Nothing explodes a comment thread like Young Earth Creationism or Homosexuality.

  17. I think it might help to put these issues in the context of being a parent. Because, as a parent, we usually aren’t hesitant to communicate God’s best to them.

    So maybe this would help on this issue. What would we communicate to our homosexual child? How we treat our kids is how we should treat our neighbor, no?

  18. melissab says:

    Sin is sin. But, and I think this is what the “no position” guy is saying, no one will care what you think until they know you care. You have to build relationships before you have the right to speak into someone’s circumstances. Especially if that someone has no idea (skewed or screwed up ideas), they are not going to comprehend the language. Throw into that mix the cultural mores of our day and it’s a tough slough to get anyone to admit to sin. Yes, we can all make moralistic pronouncements, and believe me, I’ve done more than my fair share, but to do so runs the very real risk of permanent alienation. I’m thinking about the recently posted Michael Spencer classic on Evangelism. And as an aside, being tempted is not the same as sinning. This is coming from a twice divorced member of the LCMS. Yes, God does forgive sin as long as there is genuine contrition and repentance. I am also the mother of a son who (finally) got married after living with his girlfriend for 8 years. My concern for them both was they were living in unrepentant sin. We will all sin until the day we die (i.e., there is nothing new under the sun), but we also need to drown the old Adam daily.

    • …no one will care what you think until they know you care. You have to build relationships before you have the right to speak into someone’s circumstances. Especially if that someone has no idea (skewed or screwed up ideas), they are not going to comprehend the language.

      You would probably be hard-pressed to find much difference in the services and beliefs and practices between a charismatic/pentecostal/baptist/Presbyterian/etc. gay-affirming church and their non-gay-affirming counterparts. And I think the differences between Evangelical Protestants and Roman Catholics/Eastern Orthodox Christians re: the Eucharist and the priesthood are of far greater theological significance than the differences between gay-affirming and non-gay-affirming Protestants. Yet I suspect many people would think of visiting a Catholic or Orthodox Church to know the people before visiting a “gay” church in order to do the same.

      If you don’t have any gay Christian friends (you probably do, but they just haven’t come out to you or your church yet), and if you want to know what gay Christians think about all of this, if you want to know them as people and not as the faceless “other,” to build relationships of any sort, there are gay-affirming churches in many cities you can visit – go to: http://www.gaychurch.org/Find_a_Church/find_a_church.htm

      Sure, you might feel some discomfort at the thought, but it’s not 1/100th of 1% of what the gay people at those churches have lived with most of their lives, and will likely continue to have to live with, even after they have “come out.”

      • Final Anonymous says:

        +1.

        Actually, you might find it surprisingly comfortable. Congregations that are open and affirming and welcoming toward the most marginalized in society tend to be pretty welcoming toward the rest of us imperfect folk, as well.

      • melissab says:

        EricW, I read through the list of “gay” churches in my state. I really don’t know how to respond. Here’s the deal. I didn’t abandon my son for living outside of marriage for 8 years, but I did not wimp out on speaking truth even when it would make him terribly angry. Because I love him, I want him in a right relationship with God,so the pain it caused was the price I paid. I would be the same with a gay friend in a physically intimate relationship, if our friendship had a deep relational bond.

        Would I really be able to go into a church and identify it as gay? I would hope not, because if someone’s sexual orientation is that overt, something’s really wrong in that church. Gay or not gay should not be a defining feature of a church.

        I am a nurse, and it is a vocation. I have cared for a very diverse bunch of people. And worked with a very diverse bunch of people. And tried very hard to treat them all as if they were a member of my family. Because, when it comes right down to it, they are.

  19. melissab says:

    And BTW, just because God forgives sin doesn’t mean I don’t continue to suffer the consequences of my sin.

    • yes! yes! yes!

      • yes! yes! yes! Three cheers for suffering consequences and not getting off scot free! Hip hip…HOORAY!!

        Hip hip…HOORAY!!

        Hip hip…anybody gonna join in? Come on, guys!

  20. As a man who struggles with same sex attraction and also loves Jesus and His church, I find this article to be challenging. I always want to jump on the band wagon, take a stand, declare my beliefs (that they are right and superior), and condemn other Christians who do not believe the same way I do. I wholeheartedly accept and believe what I Corinthians 6: 9 – 11 says: “Such were some of you but you were washed…..”. This gives me continual hope and let’s me know that God is able to save and redeem to the utmost. As Corrie ten Boom said: “No pit is so deep that God cannot reach deeper still.” The important point to remember from this is that we are all sinners in need of God’s grace, love, mercy, and forgiveness.

    So my challenge is to look at this question in the same way the writer here puts forth and not be so judgemental of Christian brothers and sisters who do not believe as. I like what he has to say. It is good.

  21. Mike, I commented to Ray and now my reply is gone. Is there a reason why ?

  22. I see it is now there. Thanks

  23. Mike, why is my reply to Ray gone again ? Thanks

  24. Must be a system thing. It appears then is gone. Thanks

  25. For all these reasons, when I am asked “What is your position on LGBTQ sexual relations?” I respond by saying “I don’t have one.”
    What say you?

    If you want to see what this will end up like take a careful look at The Anglican Church of Canada and The Episcopal Church. Unlike some of the conservative Evangelicals, Anglicans place a deep value on unity and many priests decided to remain quiet. It has led to a situation where orthodox Christians are in many places not welcome in either church

    • Oh Ken, don’t bother us with the details of history. If we want to ignore blatant, consistent, and repeated patterns of ecclesial drift, that’s our right as Americans!

  26. Damaris says:

    And mine to (I think) Oscar?

  27. For a while, this issue never bothered me. Then it did, and I don’t really find neutrality possible anymore.

    While I took my family for granted, I didn’t have to worry about what happens to gay people. Growing up evangelical and straight, with a sound and whole family, it cost me nothing to assent to what I agree does seem plain in the Bible: men and women should have sex only with each other. But I’m a little older now, and I know the love and support that comes with marriage, and I’ve watched friends and family members age and die while relying on their spouses and children, and it occurs to me–if the church cannot wish for gay people to form families, through the bonds of marriage and of sex, what can it wish for them? We’re desperately afraid that we are putting ourselves in moral peril if we consecrate same-sex relationships, but isn’t their a competing moral peril in preventing someone from forming a family? Am I wrong to be much, much more cautious of that one?

    I know, many Christians never marry and remain single their entire lives. Some call it a vocation, and I accept that. I don’t accept that simply being gay means that singleness is your vocation. If strategic neutrality is the way some want to go for now, I suppose it’ll work for now–but it won’t work for long. In the end, our moral approval and disapproval betrays a least something of what we wish for people, and despite our best intentions and kindest words, I’m afraid that the church will still end up wishing gay people ill.

  28. Mixed feelings here. I appreciate the effort to de-politicize the issue and restore it to a relational context. Would that pontification on heterosexuality were returned to that context as well, in a day of “Real Marriage” and “7 day sex challenge” type schtick.

    But at the same time, we don’t want to even consider creating “Seeker Sensitive Theology.” For example:

    Taking a “position” can only inflame, thereby separating us from mission.

    I’m sorry, but the Kingdom of God does not depend upon us placating our hearers. Unless, of course, you’re a Revivalist, and see yourself as a salesperson for salvation. But otherwise, I’m reading through Acts right now and I can’t help but thinking; Geese, if only Stephen had known this, he probably wouldn’t have gotten stoned. Peter could have used an editor for his little Pentecost outburst. “You did it! You killed Christ! His blood is on YOUR hands, and YOU will have to answer for it!” Or something like that. I’m just saying, even I read that and think, you couldn’t have used just a pinch of tact with that one, could you?

    I think the problem isn’t so much that people take a position on this issue as it is that they make it their primary position. No matter which side you fall on, this topic gets disproportionate airtime. And if you make it your business to go around taking official positions on all sorts of moral issues (don’t get me wrong, the Church has them, but it’s not the responsibility of prominent clergy to constantly give their affirmation or veto) then the proclamation of Christ gets displaced by moralism. Both sides are equally guilty here.

    But ultimately, to say “we have no position” means either “Scripture has no position” which is dishonest, or “we don’t necessarily believe the position of Scripture.” Or maybe even “Scripture is so cryptic and mystical we’re not really sure what it’s trying to say on this issue.” I get the impulse to downplay. But at some point, we have the responsibility to believe, teach, and confess all that the Scriptures say. It must be possible to have a position on this issue without blowing it out of proportion. But I think complete silence is going too far. And I suggest the problem is not necessarily our having “positions.” Our problem is that we just don’t know how to love sinners enough to earn the right to speak into their lives. And we dont’ understand Justification: too often moralistic pontification comes across as “get your act together, THEN come to Jesus.” So sinners feel like they are hated for being inferior. We’ve GOT to clear that OUT of our message, and if postponing our “position” can help with that, then perhaps it is worth it.

    • Interesting thoughts Miguel. Thank you.

      “So sinners feel like they are hated for being inferior. We’ve GOT to clear that OUT of our message, and if postponing our “position” can help with that, then perhaps it is worth it.”

      I’m wondering if 1 Corinthians 9:19-22 applies here, particularly verse 21:

      “To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law), so as to win those not having the law.”

    • +1

    • + one kajillion

  29. In thinking about it, I finally come down on the side of thinking that David Fitch is incredibly naive.

    The issue will not go away in denominations if pastors and leadership ignore it. Because they are not taking into account that there are people who have political agendas and will not no for an answer.

    Anglican church members in New Westminster Canada tried a similar approach. Even the Anglican church worldwide told bishop Ingham to hold back, to no avail. He was so convinced of the rightness of his cause that he threw an orthodox congregation who rebelled out of their building (it was the largest Anglican church in Canada). Here he is having to sell off real estate to keep afloat and has no problem pursuing his agenda.

    Theological liberals can be as convinced of the rightness of their cause just as much as die hard fundamentalists and every bit as mean and nasty.

  30. Is a church split really the worst thing that can happen? Maybe it’s better to have more (and smaller) churches whose members are more in agreement.

  31. Irrelevant says:

    The church should always take a stance against sin, not just particular sins. We are all sinners; we should all be accepted by the church regardless of individual sins. I am a heterosexual woman, if I have sex outside marriage, what makes my sin any better then a man having relations with another man outside of marriage? If I am drowning myself in alcohol and drugs everyday to deal with deep emotional issues from childhood, is my sin somehow less of a sin then gay relations? If I was born into a violent household and suffered abuse my whole life, I might believe that my sins were justified because of what I have gone through, since I have not known any different. That is simply not true. It takes a commitment and a serious and true love for the living God to turn away from your sin, what ever your sin may be. God will bless you because of it. God is everything; he literally has the power to do anything, down to changing the very code of your DNA. God is love, he sent his only son to die on the cross for this very purpose. We are sinners, sin hurts us and others, we have the ability to come to the Father in the name of Jesus, bow at his feet and he can wash us clean. That does not mean we are going to be free of the world and temptation, that means God is graceful, merciful, and loves us. If you are seeking a relationship with him he will respond.

  32. By divine coincidence, this wonderful Catholic / Orthodox / Episcopalian exchange just appeared in Dan Savage’s column:

    http://www.avclub.com/articles/april-10-2013,96217/

    Or would this be more appropriate for the Saturday round-up?

    • I will need to to pause and think before I click on anymore of the links you post here Gerald. Garbage in, garbage out…

      • In that case, let me assure you that it is quite SFW. Dan Savage is a well-known gay advice columnist. In this week’s column, a gay Catholic man engaged to a gay Orthodox man wrote with misgivings about his fiance’s tendency to internalize his church’s anti-gay beliefs. Dan Savage (who is an atheist) referred the question, as he often does, to an outside expert–in this case U.S. Episcopal bishop Gene Robinson, whose advice was quite sensible and practical.

        Last year, Dan Savage wrote one of the most profound things I have seen in quite some time. In answer to a question about infidelity, he wrote that forgiveness should not just be about forgiving the little things, or words to that effect. (Savage is married and has an adopted son.) So in what you term garbage, I discern the spirit of Christ.

  33. Gosta Torvik says:

    Matthew 15-16:15 He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” 16 Simon Peter replied, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”

    In thinking about this issue, I’ve had this passage come to mind recently. Why? What flows from this confession? What does it entail? To follow Jesus, the Son of the Living God what does that entail? What is the position of Jesus on this issue and all other issues? His “position” is “Come follow me.” If He is the Christ and He invites us to follow Him this means through the daily washing in the waters of Baptism we follow Him no matter what the sin that gnaws at us. He doesn’t validate the Old Adam, he call him.