Opinions expressed here are my own and do not represent the views of the congregation I joyfully serve. But my congregation loves me!

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Love and Authority


This is Conversations with Bob! This is difficult stuff and I respect Bob for his honesty and sincerity. We may come to different positions and actions but that is the journey of life.


John,

Interesting response and interesting questions. It’s just like Let’s Make a Deal. I get to choose door number one, door number two or door number three. But I think I’ll choose what’s behind the curtain.

You gave me three choices of what I could do when my gay cousin trusts me enough to tell me about his orientation and introduce me to his partner. But John, you stacked the deck. According to your three choices I can:

  1. Ask my pastor, (wait a minute I am the pastor! So I check with myself?)
  2. Reread Rob Gagnon’s book, The Bible and Homosexual Practice: Texts and Hermeneutics, (Don’t need to do that, I remember enough of what it says); or
  3. Tell my cousin I love him. Let me quote you exactly. I would say to my cousin: “I love you. I am pleased that you have trusted me with this. I am so happy for you and your partner. I will stand by you both come what may." Then give him a big hug.

There are a great many more possible responses, some loving, some not. So when I say I choose the curtain I mean I would say to my cousin, “I love you. I am pleased that you have trusted me with this. I will love both you and your partner. But I also love you enough to tell you that this is not what God wants for you.” And the conversation would I hope go on from there. I would give him the hug as I told him I loved him.

Like it or not these are conversations we have with people. Sometimes people make wrong choices. If they ask us what we think what are we to say? Should we pretend that we don’t think they are wrong?

Now of course every person who is homosexual and/or disagrees with me about homosexual sexual behavior being sinful is angry at me for using the word choice. For the overwhelming majority of homosexuals their desires are not a choice. And yes, homosexual Christians have a very tough row to hoe. If I am correct in my interpretation of the Bible, (and to me that is the deciding factor), then the homosexual Christian has the choice of not acting on his/her desires or acting on his/her desires and thus sinning. It’s a terrible choice to have to make. I hope my cousin would understand that I love him but think his behavior, and yes that means the sexual expression of his love for his partner, is sin. Maybe my cousin would love me enough and believe I love him enough to talk about it, to ask me to listen to him and listen to me. Or my cousin might go away terribly hurt and never talk with me again. My point is that it is entirely possible to deeply love someone, relative or not and still disapprove of something that person does, still think that person is sinning.

As to your analogy from Huck Finn, I don’t think it is the right analogy for the question at hand. John, we both believe slavery is sinful. We both know that there was a time in America when most Christians didn’t think it was sinful. We both believe that those Christians were wrong. We part company on the analogy because you think the sexual expression of love between two people of the same sex in a committed relationship is a wonderful thing and I think that it is sinful. I think the analogy begs the question. Rob Gagnon’s analogies are better analogies for the question at hand. The issue Paul raises in I Cor. 5 is more of an apt analogy. A man has sex with either his mother or his stepmother, (the passage says “his father’s wife” so we can’t be sure). Let’s assume that Dad has died and the woman is his stepmother. Let’s also assume that the man and his stepmother love each other very much. Is the sexual expression of their love sinful? Because the woman was his father’s wife, (and therefore had some kind of motherly role with him even if his father married her when the man was an adult), I think such sexual behavior, no matter how loving, is sinful. As Gagnon says, the relationship is too close.

Can I love someone who sins? Of course I can. I have more problems believe God loves me when I sin than loving someone else who sins. Sometimes it is very difficult, depending on what the sin happens to be and whether that person has sinned against me, or worse, against someone I love. But is this not what Jesus commanded us to do? He commands us not only to love sinners but to even love our enemies!

You also raised the question of a homosexual couple with a child seeking to join the congregation I serve. (Bobby John? You’ve been in the South too long, John!) Let me put this in a broader context. I would do exactly the same thing I would do with a heterosexual couple who were not married and living together. They would be welcome in my congregation; loved too, I hope. But we would have a conversation long before we got to the new members’ class. I would point out to either couple that their living situation is not what God intends. I would point out that the questions they would be asked when they joined the congregation would place them in a dilemma.

Here is one of the three possible sets of questions and answers available in the Book of Common Worship for use when people join the Church:

Question: Trusting in the gracious mercy of God, do you turn from the ways of sin and renounce evil and its power in the world?

Answer: I do.

Question: Do you turn to Jesus Christ and accept him as your Lord and Savior, trusting in his grace and love?

Answer: I do.

Question: Will you be Christ's faithful disciple, obeying his Word and showing his love?

Answer: I will, with God's help.

I expect that anyone who joins the congregation I serve will be a sinner. Further anyone who joins will have to accept that everyone else in the congregation is a sinner, that the elders are sinners and that the pastor is a sinner. I also expect all those who join the congregation to take these vows seriously. Thus Christians must live a life examined, seeking the help of the Holy Spirit daily that she/he might increase in sanctification. Thus I would tell either couple before they joined the congregation that one of the things they would have to work on would be a change in their sexual lives. I would recognize that this might take time. But each couple would know that I believed that their sexual lives were not pleasing to God. So I would seek a commitment from each couple to change their living situation.

You mentioned leadership positions. Under no circumstances would I allow any of these people to be youth leaders, Sunday School teachers or take any other leadership position until they stopped their sexual sin. I have had such situations come up with heterosexual couples and would not let them serve in any leadership positions while living together and not married. And believe me I paid the price when one of them was the child of some prominent family in a congregation. By the way, I put the sin of gossip in the same category. Can you imagine someone doing hospital visitation and gossiping about it?

This brings us to the question of the elder who threatens to leave. Let’s turn the question around since I partly agree with the elder in the situation you mentioned. Let’s make it an elder who is the parent of one of these men. And this elder threatens to leave if I don’t let them join. If that elder manages to convince a majority of the Session that there should be no seeking of a commitment to a change of living situation or that one of the men should be approved by the Session to work in some leadership position I would have no choice. I would have to resign as pastor.

So in answer to your question: the Bible or life experience, if I have to make a choice: the Bible properly interpreted and applied. Every time.

And yes John, I recognize that this would probably mean that Bob and John would not join my congregation. And I would grieve.

One last thing. You took Paul out of context.

Grace and Peace,

Bob

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