On Friday, July 3, I moderated a panel at Cornerstone 09 on the topic of “Gay Rights and Wrongs.” Here is the blurb from the CStone web site:
Gays, Rights & Wrongs (Moderator: Michael Spencer, w/Andrew Marin, Richard Amesbury, Tony Jones, Christine Sneeringer & Frank Carrasco ) “Is homosexualty still a sin – or a sin somehow worse than all the rest? Can gays really change? Should the church change the way it engages with gay culture? What are Christians to think about gay marriage? This formidable panel will address these formidable issues.”
Audio for this panel should be available at some point in the future.
1. As I’ve said earlier, it was an honor to moderate this panel. All of these folks have far more to say to this issue than a blogger like myself. My own ministry journey has rarely put me in contact with adult gays and lesbians. Most of my experience with this subject comes in the context of student ministry. As moderator, my original goal was to keep the focus on ministry to the gay community. I did not want to moderate a debate on subjects that evangelicals debate endlessly and for which there are hundreds of resources available. I wish I’d been more successful with that goal.
2. Christine Sneeringer and Frank Carrasco are ex-gays working in the Exodus discipleship ministry. Their position on these matters was clear. It was also clear early on that while both were well-spoken and authentic representatives of their journey and experience, they were not going to give the same kind of responses as the other panelists. Amesbury is a professor of Ethics at Claremont School of Theology. Jones is finishing a Ph.d at Princeton. Marin has just written what is arguably the most provocative and ground-breaking book on bridge-building between gays and evangelicals to be published to this point. Amesbury and Jones were strong, vocal advocates of a “normalizing” approach to gay sexuality. Marin is a strong, intense advocate of a third way that does not confront the major issues with predictable answers, but moves to the place of earning credibility through friendship.
3. What was missing? A strong, academic advocate of the conservative, traditional position. I felt many in the audience, while glad that these issues were raised and discussed by a diverse panel, were, like me, feeling that certain subjects were left with an abbreviated response from the traditional side. For example, the “six passages” in scripture that deal with homosexuality were mentioned with the assumption that the exegesis put forward by the scholarly advocates of the gay community was accepted and there was no real debate on, for example, about what Paul is referring to in condemning homosexual behavior in Romans 1. I could have offered an alternative perspective, but that was not my role as moderator. Sneeringer and Carrasco simply weren’t in the league with the academic members of the panel on this subject. I would have liked to have seen someone like Robert Gagnon from Pittsburg Seminary make a contribution.
4. I was deeply moved by the persons in the audience who spoke openly about their journey and experience regarding sexual identity issues. These were some of the most memorable moments on the panel. Though we had deep disagreements on the panel, it was wonderful to see every member of the panel unite around the support that every person deserves as they seek to genuinely live out the truth as an individual and in community.
5. I appreciated Christine Sneeringer making it clear that Exodus is a discipleship ministry and is not recruiting gays to come out of their lifestyle. Christine’s description of the approach of her ministry to disciple those who want to make changes was very helpful.
6. I have serious reservations about putting forward ideas like the need to abandon “heteronormativity” into the evangelical conversation without serious interaction with Biblical, theological and pastoral implications of this idea. Nothing I heard at Cornerstone this year or last year did anything to cause me to worry less about what happens when the victimization and oppression of any group becomes the arbiter of hermeneutical and interpretative discussion. The mistreatment and oppression of various groups is part of the Biblical story and part of how God reveals himself in scripture, but when we come to the Gospel itself, there is a deep challenge to any idea of empowerment that is based on violence or being the victim of violence. The centrality of Christ and the cross signal a shift- for all of us, and for every group- away from our own victimization to embracing Christ as the ultimate victim through whom all of us are set free. We do not emerge from the New Testament as victimized groups. We come away as a new people, a new race, a holy nation, the body of Christ.
7. The Gospel calls all of us to recognize our sexual sins. It calls on all of us to repent. It calls all of us to receive the righteousness of Christ. It calls all of us to a life of discipleship, summarized in Hebrews 13:4. It calls all of us to chastity. It not not call us to reject “heteronormativity” for anything other than the centrality of Christ, the imago dei, the Kingdom of God and defining nature of the Gospel. Jesus and Jesus alone possesses the shape of Christian sexual identity. I fully recognize that genuine Christians will agree with all of the above and come to various, differing conclusions on issues of sexuality. Nonetheless, had I been able to contribute to the discussion, it would have been my goal to emphasize that what Christ calls us to is different from all the options offered by various political and advocacy constituencies. The Gospel is the highest standard of sexual conformity to the person and purpose of God, while at the same time offering the highest expressions of amazing grace.
8. Our actions toward one another and toward the GLBT community must be radically, distinctively Jesus shaped, i.e. recognizably faithful to who Jesus is and what Jesus is doing in scripture and through the Spirit. I simply will never stop insisting that to look at Jesus as the most sexually healthy person that ever lived is a completely radicalizing journey, far more so than the options I hear around me.