DMINLGP

DMin, Leadership and Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

Confessions of A Confused Believer

Written by: on March 6, 2015

Honestly, it seemed so much simpler forty years ago. Sexual topics were little discussed in the church and there was wide spread consensus on many of the issues back then. With the coming of the sixties, issues concerning gender, sex and family were thrust into the forefront of the church’s attention and today have become a central focus. My personal awareness on the gay/lesbian world came long before they were hot button issues. In college, I learned that my youth minister during high school was gay, as well as a minister friend, who went on to minister in Chicago’s thriving gay community as early as the mid-1970s. Since then, the issue has taken center stage in our society and in the church. In fact, a friend this past week shared that he had been selected to head a committee to determine how to handle issues such as gay marriage and membership in his church. Already, his church is experiencing division over these issues and is floundering to find a way forward that keeps the peace. Even in churches where there are no gay participants, these issues are creating waves, and for people like me, confusion.   Not wishing to add to the negativity of so many Christians, yet sincerely desiring to know a biblical understanding what God’s thinking is on these issues, I have longed for some wisdom to help me make informative decisions.

In God, Sex, and Gender: An Introduction, Adrian Thatcher presents a thoroughly biblical study on many areas of sexuality. What Thatcher does throughout the book is provide several different approaches to each topic, fairly laying out different theological interpretations, only giving his own conclusions at the end.  Thatcher includes a number of possible interpretations of passages specifically dealing with homosexuality. As with many recent studies, it seems this topic requires the most learned scholars to understand the particular nuances of the passages and the context that ultimately suggest an allowance for same sex relationships. But, I am also aware that many other scholars would argue against these conclusions. So, not being a scholar of biblical languages, am no closer to feeling like I have a grasp on what God’s take on all this might actually be. It seems like I am caught in an interpretation war that is mostly beyond my ability to keep up with. So I continue to be confused.

My deepest concern is to honor God and His Word. I seek to know and follow His truth. As one theologian stated: “Christians need to study the Bible painstakingly and properly so that we are a people committed to biblical concerns, views, principles, and in many areas, its practices. Only through diligent study may we proclaim what God desires for his people, regardless of culture or era.”[i] Thatcher calls this an “essentialist” view, which “teaches us to look beyond the shifting and ephemeral fads and fashion of any culture.”[ii]  In my confusion, I wonder if there is in Scripture some solid grounding in this area or not? I am still hopeful that there might be clear and essential truths about God’s heart on same sex relations and gay marriage that rises above the clamor and confusion. Today, it seems we are leaning more on what Thatcher calls “constructionist,” where it is felt that “God grant(s) to people of the earth responsibilities for developing just relations with one another, leaving it to us to construct how these are to work.”[iii] With this approach, there seems to be no clear agreement on these issues among Christians, and the church seems to be playing a game constant catch-up with our modern society. Rather than striving for set principles or providing a clear and unified message, the churches seems to be floundering in its attempts to find a solution. No wonder I feel so unsettled about these important issues!

However, as I continue to search, I strongly believe that Marin’s book, Love is an Orientation, provides a helpful way forward. First, he suggests that we start from a position of humility. As Christians, we should be the first to admit we are sinners in need of God’s forgiveness and grace. I am afraid that too often, in issues like homosexuality, Christians come across as sinless saints and treat others as if they are the only sinners. In fact, as Marin reminds us, I am no different from you! I am learning more each day that God begins His real work in my life when I recognize and experience sorrow over my sin. As Marin reaches out, his attitude is one of humble awareness of his true self: “My sin is no different than yours, and God’s grace is here to meet us all at our point of need. I am here not as someone who used to be gay, but as one of you. I am an undeserving sinner who has encountered God’s amazing grace.”[iv] How much better would the church be if we a similar attitude as we dealt–not only gays, but–with anyone who might live different lives or have different attitudes than us?

Marin helpfully suggests that we should remember our goal as witnesses for Christ. He suggests that: “Christians look at a gay or lesbian person and see a potential behavioral change instead of a person longing to know the same Christ we seek.”[v] I think this is a brilliant point. We are good at seeing particular areas of person’s life as being the roadblocks to their being brought to Christ, and so we seek to “clean them up” in order to present them to God in a partially reformed state. However, behavior change is God’s work, not ours. And because we focus on the behavior, we forget the real goal of our work as witnesses, which is to “peacefully pointing gays and lesbians in the direction of learning how to have an intimate, real, conversational relationship with the Father and Judge….”[vi] So, instead of seeking to change people, either their thinking or their behavior, maybe we should devote our energy to what is most important: To help them know God through Jesus Christ.

I hope someday to have a clearer understanding of God’s take on these important issues, but today I am merely confused…and saddened. I see hurt on both sides of the isle, on the division within the church over these issues and in pain brought to gay people by Christians. I think the church could use a large dose of humility, as I find it ironic that she is often critical of gay marriage yet lacks concern for the fifty percent divorce rate within her ranks. It is my hope, in the midst of my search, that any gay person I have the opportunity to befriend would say to me what was said to Andrew Marin: “I wish I had known a believer in Christ who would affirm that God and his people loved us and were devoted to us in our journey, regardless of the outcome.”[vii]

 

[i] Robert Lowery, “Biblical Models of the Church: Contributions of the Stone-Campbell Movement to the Church of the Twenty-First Century,” in Evangelicalism and the Stone-Campbell Movement, ed. William R. Baker (Downers Grove, IL: 2002), Kindle, 2596.

[ii] Adrian Thatcher, God, Sex, and Gender: An Introduction (Chichester: West Sussex: John Wiley & Sons Ltd., 2011), Kindle, 803.

[iii] Ibid., 806.

[iv] Andrew Marin, Love is an Orientation: Elevating the Conversation with the Gay Community Downers Grove, IL: Inter Varsity Press, 2009), 72.

[v] Ibid., 85.

[vi] Ibid.

[vii] Ibid, 192.

About the Author

mm

John Woodward

Associate Director of For God's Children International. Member of George Fox Evangelical Seminary's LGP4.

11 responses to “Confessions of A Confused Believer”

  1. mm Stefania Tarasut says:

    John, so what do you think about homosexuality and church membership? 🙂 HA! I’m not setting a trap for you… It’s an honest question.

    • mm John Woodward says:

      Stefania….that is a great question! I wish I could give you an answer! Undecided! Open? Not sure! I would even suggest that I am struggling with what it means today for anyone to be church member…as churches seem to be so fluid in what it means to be a part of being a church! See, Stefania…I am confused!

      • mm John Woodward says:

        Yes Deve, I concur with your statement totally. I fear that most of our discussions are on surface issues, that is distracting from far deeper and essentials issues. That is what I think causes me confusion – I feel like no one is dealing with those bigger concerns, and since we are dealing with only the surface, we are open to so many opinions and ideas. But I am not sure how to get down to “the root causes” that I think might clarify so many of these issues! Any advice?

        • mm Deve Persad says:

          John, not sure I’m in a position to give advice on these matters. One of the major things the Lord has taught me over the years is to look for openings to understand the “why” behind the “what” of people’s behaviour. In order to do that it requires relationship. To put the those two thing in reverse order simply bogs us all down in policies and arguments and seems to cause greater division. There is room to hold convictions, even opposing convictions within healthy relationships.

  2. mm Deve Persad says:

    Thanks for sharing your feelings more than your thoughts on this John. Sadness, is a profound way to begin to address the changes necessary within the church as it stands today, particularly with the obvious hypocrisy within our ranks, as you said, “I think the church could use a large dose of humility, as I find it ironic that she is often critical of gay marriage yet lacks concern for the fifty percent divorce rate within her ranks.” My concern is that we continue to address the manifestations of sin and neglect rather than addressing the root causes of the troubles we face. Perhaps, you and/or your friend will be able to lend us some clarity…you’re in a great position to start.

  3. John,

    Excellent post. Love your honesty and humility here. I also hurt for those who are hurting over these issues. And, yes, this issue is splitting churches left and right. There are no easy answers.

    I have been part of a church that is on the more liberal side theologically. Several months ago, the church decided to become a “welcoming church” for people in the LGBT community. I want all people to feel welcome at my church, but is welcoming one particular group the answer? Is that not then excluding other groups? This was a tough time for me for the reason of inequity. About six months ago we left the church, not in anger, but just to take time to think through the situation more carefully. The problem is that we have not yet found another church and we love the people at our old church. After reading our texts this week, I found myself wondering if we should return to our church and be willing to share our views and perspectives with everyone and be willing to agree to disagree. It is good to be welcoming, but it is also good to be consistent. I will keep you posted with what we decide. We are trying to be prayerful and slow. This is a good topic for our road trip.

  4. mm Julie Dodge says:

    This is great, John. I find that in the scriptural analysis, I too lack an understanding of the nuances of culture, context and truth. And when I read different interpretations, I am not convinced that the analysis presented comes from an unbiased place. It all too often seems like the interpreter is trying more to prove a point than to offer an unbiased exegesis.

    So that leaves me trying to figure out how to live well in the context of my world. How do I offer compassion and understanding to the Christan who in their fervor for righteousness comes across as condemning and even hateful? How do I offer a healing pathway for someone with same sex attraction (or other alternative identities) who desires Jesus but fears Christians? It is indeed confusing, and rarely do I find people who tries to understand and offer compassion in both directions. It seems to be one or the other, right or wrong, black or white. Yet my experience is that life is sloppy and people are messy. The clear line is hard to find. Which is why I liked Marin. Let’s help people find God and perhaps let God do what God does.

  5. Michael Badriaki says:

    Great post John! Appreciate the refreshing perspective you’ve shared here. I believe it shows the complexity of the matters the church has grappled with in the past and continues to do so today. When I read St Augustine ‘s confessions for the first time, I was impressed in numerous ways. Here are a few: I was moved by the fact that such a spiritual MVP of his time and our time, could frankly air out his sexual life, including the dirty laundry . I was also awakened to the negativity which St Augustine described his sexual past. I also appreciated his ability to express the intense emotional pain he associated to his sexuality. One the other hand, I was left to wonder how the believing community might learn from Augustine’s story and seek to also include the need for the stewardship of gift of sexuality that God has granted humanity. I believe that the church and believers are faced with the challenge of dealing with the pink, purple and grey area of sexuality. The questions remain, what does the text say about sex and marriage? Does the Bible say everything we need to know about sex and marriage? Do Christians need to seek a holistic and interdisciplinary perspective that can allow for Christ’s followers to gain the ability to have a cogent analysis of the issues?

    I have a position on sexuality but at the same time, I delight in the fresh winds of dialogue which help me grow in my understanding. I continue to think and grow along with you. May God help us all to be loving and merciful just as He has mercy on us. I take comfort in the fact that God is the ultimate judge.

    Thank you!

  6. John…
    Understanding and interpreting Scripture is such a challenge. As Thatcher pointed out it is way more complex than we might at first thing (the whole sexuality and gender thing to begin with!). A year or so ago our church (Presbyterian – USA) was looking at this particular “issue”. We had several opportunities to read and dialog, ask questions. It was a loving and hard time. Several people in our congregation left. A gay couple stayed. But we did not want easy answers, we wanted to be people of the Word. Sometimes that meant we wanted the more liberal interpretation to be more grounded than we thought it was.

    What Marin does so well is to put the human face on our learning. As you noted he leads with humility. John, you express that in your post. Blessings and grace as you continue to process …

  7. Miriam Mendez says:

    John, I loved the title of our blog–“Confessions of of a Confused Believer.” This, as you stated, is a topic that for many causes confusion and perhaps lack of compassion. As you say some prefer to change or have the person change rather than engage in a conversation for understanding or build a relationship. I appreciated your statement, “So, instead of seeking to change people, either their thinking or their behavior, maybe we should devote our energy to what is most important: To help them know God through Jesus Christ. Yes! Shouldn’t we be about helping know and love God rather than trying to change them so that we can feel comfortable? Thanks John!

  8. John, great grappling with the material. Excellent job. You are so correct that in years past things seem to be easier. I say “seems” with the understanding that perhaps we were just spottin’ the company line. But now, whoa! the church actually has to think and not go on route traditional by lines? Sure, Confusion is a good way to look at things now. ha.

    I appreciate your statement. “I am no different from you! I am learning more each day that God begins His real work in my life when I recognize and experience sorrow over my sin. I often wonder how you and I might act if our “private struggles” were obvious to others. Humility and acceptance of others would be brought to a whole new level. AMEN.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *