DMINLGP

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

I’m not where I was

Written by: on March 11, 2019

When I first met Lois, I assumed she a widow.  Several of my colleagues had mentioned how she and her husband had run thriving music ministries in France for several years, but when we arrived on the field she was single. Close to retirement age, she had recently spent some time back in the States but had launched back to France for part 2 of her career at the same time that David and I arrived on the field.

I sat across the table from her for dinner during one of our first field retreats, and that’s when I heard her story. It turns out that Lois and her four children believed themselves to be leading a normal, chaste, missionary life, only to discover that her husband of over 30 years had been living a double life all along. When his duplicity was discovered, he admitted to be gay and to decades of unfaithfulness and promiscuity. Lois swore to me that she had absolutely no clue. No clue.

I don’t tell this story to demonize Lois’s husband—a man I’ve never met and whose name I don’t even know. Quite the contrary. While I don’t condone lying and cheating, I also find myself broken for a man who, on the one hand, wanted to dedicate his life to the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and; on the other hand, lived in a time when revealing his sexual orientation would have meant total exclusion from Christian mission. It was a time when there was no middle ground on this issue in the Church—when one was forced to choose between following Jesus and same-sex attraction.

I can only wonder how many other mission families have had similar experiences. Or rather, ARE HAVING similar experiences, because while the church is at least having the debate, the mission field remains a place where traditional values are deeply cherished. This is partly due to the type of people who feel called to missions, and partly due to the complexities related to the cultural differences among evangelical Christians around the globe on this subject matter.

And if I’m being honest, I’m not sure where I stand on the issue right now. I moved from judgement to compassion as I walked with Christian families figuring out how to love and support gay children. In 2013, after reading Exodus International’s apology when they closed down their ministry of 37 years, I moved from believing that people could be “healed” of homosexuality to accepting sexual orientation as something that rarely changes. Alan Chambers, the president of Exodus, said “For quite some time, we’ve been imprisoned in a worldview that’s neither honoring toward our fellow human beings, nor biblical.”[1] The organization openly admitted that after decades of trying to help gay people get free from their same-sex desires, their results had been abysmal and they feared they might have done more harm than good. And while there have been these small changes in my own understanding and perspective, I have had the luxury of NOT having to take a stand on this issue, which is really the wimpy way out.

The risks of taking a stand are great. After last weeks’ Zoom session I googled Steve Chalke, the founder of Oasis, whom we will meet in London. I quickly stumbled upon a controversy involving his organization being kicked out of the Evangelical Alliance of the UK  in 2014 after “what has been perceived by some as a campaign to change the Church’s historic view on human sexuality,” even though the Oasis board claimed NOT to have an official view on the matter.[2] Indeed, I have been remiss to even post my questions about this and other issues on social media sites for fear of similar alienation.

So where are the safe places to ask genuine theological questions, to seek truth together, and to find our way forward? One such place was found in this week’s reading.

The book Two Views on Homosexuality, the Bible, and Church helps people like me think more deeply and become theologically educated on this topic, which must be addressed by Global Christian world. I especially appreciate the respectful tone presented by all sides, allowing the reader to absorb the information without being whipped up into a frenzy. I appreciate the gentleness of both sides, with a genuine compassion for the real life issues facing people who identify as gay, lesbian, or bisexual. And rather than feeling like someone was trying to win me over to their way of seeing things, I genuine felt like I was being carefully instructed by experts who have a high view of scripture and as editor Preston M. Sprinkle writes, “skin in the game.”[3]

While I still have more reading and research to do, I’d like to share a couple of arguments that I found particularly compelling:

Dr. Megan K DeFranza, in responding to Loader’s essay, asks the question, “’How would Jesus have responded to a Christian college student struggling to understand her same-sex desires?”’ That is the task of Christian ethics.”[4] Indeed, we need to be able to connect our theological reflections to the implications that they have for real people, particularly in light of the compassion and grace of Christ. This is not to say that following Christ does not involve struggle—for everyone. As Holmes points out even “Christian marriage is not permission to indulge our sexual desires, but an ascetic discipline through which our wayward desires are transformed (just as celibacy is).”[5]

I have a lot more thinking and praying to do before I would be able to articulate a position, but I do know that I agree with DeFranza’s closing though in her essay: “And yet, we are finding ways to debate and disagree without adding the pain of persecution, or accusing our opponents of abandoning the faith, or rejecting the authority of the Bible.”[6] I’m thankful for this step in the right direction.

[1] By Ed Payne CNN, “Group Apologizes to Gay Community, Then Shuts down ‘cure’ Ministry,” CNN, accessed March 11, 2019, https://www.cnn.com/2013/06/20/us/exodus-international-shutdown/index.html.

[2] Evangelical Alliance, “Press Release: Statement: Oasis Trust Membership,” Evangelical Alliance, accessed March 11, 2019, http://www.eauk.org/current-affairs/media/press-releases/oasis-trust-membership.cfm.

[3] Preston M. Sprinkle et al., Two Views on Homosexuality, the Bible, and the Church, Counterpoints: Bible and Theology (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2016), 14.

[4] Sprinkle et al., 54.

[5] Sprinkle et al., 64.

[6] Sprinkle et al., 100.

About the Author

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Jennifer Williamson

Jenn Williamson is a wife and mother of two adult sons. Before moving to France in 2010, she was the women's pastor at Life Center Foursquare Church in Spokane, WA. As a missionary with Greater Europe Mission, she is involved in church planting and mentoring emerging leaders. Jenn benefitted from French mentors during her transition to the field, and recognizes that cross-cultural ministry success depends on being well integrated into the host culture. Academic research into missionary sustainability and cultural adaptation confirmed her own experience and gave her the vision to create Elan, an organization aimed at helping missionaries transition to the field in France through the participation of French partners.

5 responses to “I’m not where I was”

  1. Great post Jenn, I appreciated your honesty and your story about the missionaries. I agree with you that we will never know how many gay missionaries had to stay in the closet for fear of persecution. I actually think there are thousands of gay Christians who feel this way. There is nothing wrong with taking your time on exploring this issue, its the people who avoid it that will miss out and possibly be left behind. Great minds think alike, we both highlighted the following quote: “How would Jesus have responded to a Christian college student struggling to understand her same-sex desires?”’ That is the task of Christian ethics.” Trying to imagine how Jesus would deal with this issue has helped me in this process.

  2. mm Dan Kreiss says:

    Jenn,

    I was well aware of the change in posture taken by Exodus International and have watched it unfold for some time. Christians would like this to be a simple issue but clearly it is not and I believe will always be complex and contentious. I understand why people want to use the Bible to condemn the LGBTQ lifestyle but I fail to see why they hold the line so vehemently on this issue but are lenient regarding divorce, materialism, and other lifestyle sins. It seems that rather than inclusiveness we spend most of our time labelling the ‘other’ and creating rules for exclusion. Like you, I am not where I was previously.

  3. mm Jay Forseth says:

    Hi Jenn!

    I can hardly wait to hear of your trip to Israel! Please share with us about your experiences there!

    I appreciated your highlight, “And yet, we are finding ways to debate and disagree without adding the pain of persecution, or accusing our opponents of abandoning the faith, or rejecting the authority of the Bible.”

    Here, here!

  4. Greg says:

    Jenn. I too want to hear about your travel through Israel. I have long to travel there as well. I am with you in regards to seeing those individuals hurt by their hidden lives and those of people they love. I too am not at a place that I am fully able to articulate where I land. Reading the Word, it is easy to see how Jesus did and would treat those that feel marginalized. How we move in leadership development within the church is a tricky and potentially volatile thing.

  5. mm Kyle Chalko says:

    Great post Jenn. I had not realized how conservative much of the missions field might be, and I can see how this can be a real issue for somethings. I apprecaite learning about your journey and hearing about the growth you went through.

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