We must say both that this world is “not the way it’s supposed to be” and that Christ’s “power is made perfect in”--in, not outside of—“weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9).
That's the last sentence from this great post from Wesley Hill that I re-discovered this last week. He talks about the need to be "bilingual" in how we address the complicated issues of life. There is a lot of great stuff to think about here...read it!
So today, the Ethics & Religious Liberty Committee of the Southern Baptist Convention met for a leadership summit on the gospel and sexuality. It was intended to train pastors on how to speak into issues concerning sexuality in informed and helpful ways.
I spent a good chunk of my day reading reactions on Twitter to the live stream of the event, mostly from the affirming, progressive folks. Their reaction to the conference was not good, to put it mildly. Some of the negative reaction was just as expected. After all, it shouldn't surprise anyone that the SBC still considers gay marriage outside the bounds of scripture, and that progressives disagree. However, some of the negative reaction to what was being said was legitimate, in my estimation.
Let me be clear. I rejoice that this summit is happening, and that conservative Christians are engaging in this conversation. But we aren't doing it perfectly. Here is one of the main issues where I see us conservative Christians being really silly: We need to quit freaking out about the term "gay".
Some of the speakers at the conference refused to use the term, and went to great lengths to use the terms "homosexual" and "same-sex attracted" in places where "gay" would have felt much more natural to the majority of common folk.
Seriously, the term "gay" doesn't mean what you think it means. If you asked 10 people on the street, "What does the word 'gay' mean?" 9 of them would say, "It means you are attracted to the same-sex." Thats it! It doesn't mean that you are engaged in sexual activity. It doesn't mean that you are claiming "gay" as your primary identity of who you are as a person. In my judgement, I see no problem with holding it out as a legitimate option for Christians to use in describing their sexuality.
The main issue that I always see underlying the term gay is that it is perceived to be a primary identity marker. But the thing is that even if someone simply refers to themselves as "experiencing same-sex attraction", THEY CAN STILL FIND THEIR IDENTITY IN THAT. By avoiding the term "gay", we are not automatically avoiding identity problems. What we ARE doing is unduly alienating ourselves from the conversation happening in the progressive and secular corners of our culture. We are making a mountain out of a molehill with the term gay, and it isn't helping. We should stop it.
In fact, often times I think that we as conservatives are the main people that are giving sexuality the potential to define our personhood. For example, one of the quotes from the summit was, "Sexuality doesn't have to be the defining characteristic of any of us." In response, Jeff Chu, an affirming gay Christian author, tweeted, "IT ISN'T. YOU ARE MAKING IT SO." Similarly, Brandon Ambrosino, an affirming gay journalist, wrote in one of his articles, "When it comes to my identity, I take care not to reduce myself to my sexual orientation...my gayness is not the most fundamental aspect of my identity as Brandon." These are openly affirming gay men who are saying that their sexuality is NOT their main identity. In fact, most of the gay guys I know would take issue with anyone reducing them to their orientation. Now, I am not saying that no one sees their sexuality as their main identity marker. Surely some do. But I AM saying that the label "gay" is certainly not a good indicator as to where a persons identity lies.
Furthermore, the term "experiencing same-sex attraction" is really no clearer than the term "gay". If you say "I experience SSA" to someone in our culture, they would likely respond, "So...you're gay?" You are still going to have to explain what you mean. Given the moral state of our society, they will likely still assume that you are sexually active, and that you affirm same-sex marriage...you just talk about it kind of weirdly.
The real issues are below the words. Where ARE you finding your identity? How ARE you expressing your sexual feelings? The term "gay" tells you nothing about those questions. Instead, we actually need to ask those questions and have those conversations, regardless of a chosen label. I just really wish we could move on from this debate about terminology into the heart issues happening in real people who are struggling with their sexuality.
I honestly feel like this whole World Vision thing has been a fiasco. I haven't commented on it yet, but I guess I will, reluctantly...because I am sure everyone is just DYING to read one more blog post on this whole cluster-cuss.
For those of you who just landed from the most recent shuttle from Mars, the Christian relief organization World Vision recently announced that they would no longer ban gay couples in same-sex marriages from working for their organization. Less than 48 hours later, they retracted that statement and reaffirmed their original position.
Enter the bloggers, the angry mobs, the ad hominem attacks, the straw men being erected in the theological cornfields of the perceived enemy. My friends, the blogosphere was not a pretty place last week. I don't have time to go into all of my frustrations about how this situation was handled by certain people on BOTH sides of the theological debate. But I'll talk about a few.
I am speaking to my brothers in the conservative theological camp in this post. To my regular readers, It isn't a surprise that I affirm the traditional, side B sexual ethic. Therefore, I do not have a problem with theological conservatives speaking the truth of what they believe the Bible teaches. In fact, if they are loving, speaking is required. I seriously cannot imagine a legitimate form of love that doesn't warn someone headed toward the edge of a cliff. However, in my view, there are at least three ways that this "speaking the truth" can - and in some cases has - gone horribly awry.
Number one, if the truth is turned into a hammer meant to bludgeon the perceived enemy to death, then I have a problem. The command to "speak the truth in love" (Eph. 4:15) is not optional. If there is no love, then don't speak. One of the ways that I see this happening, perhaps unintentionally, within this specific debate is when the conversation is reduced into a simple argument to be won, failing to take into account the lives of real people created in the image of God. How easy is it to ignore the emotions, desires, and experiences of gay people when we form our carefully crafted arguments? This does not mean that we should water down the truth in order to "not offend". Jesus was obviously not concerned about offending (Luke 12:51). I'm simply saying that the tone with which we communicate matters. We can say the same truth in a way that oozes love and compassion, or in a way that throws real people under the theologically correct bus.
Number two, if speaking the truth is where our love ends, then I have a problem. If our love terminates in truth telling, then our love is woefully incomplete. It is easy to speak. Actions are the proof in the love pudding. We are called to love our enemies perfectly (Matt. 5:43-48) and this includes more than telling them that they are sinning (Luke 6:27-28; Rom. 12:20). So do the actions line up with the words? How many outspoken conservative bloggers have gay friends that they have befriended and regularly serve? Perhaps many of them do. In my view, it is within those types of relationships that truth is best spoken (see Rosaria Champagne Butterfield's testimony). It's easy to sling truth across the interweb and call it love. It's difficult to love someone into the Kingdom.
Number three, when people use terms like "false teacher" and "wolf in sheep's clothing" immediately, at the first sign of sin, then I have a problem. Richard Strearns was called these very things THE SAME DAY that World Vision made their announcement. Then, less than 48 hours later, they changed their minds and repented, and Stearns was called "humble" and "courageous" by these same people. So can we just slow down the accusatory train here? Calling someone a wolf is an incredibly serious thing to do which, in my view, should only be done after a call to repentance has been issued and repeatedly ignored. Stearns did not ignore the call, thus proving (at least outwardly) the label of "wolf" to be false and premature. The only thing that would have been lost if a week or a month had been allowed to pass before labeling Strearns a heretic would have been a false accusation.
Brothers and sisters, let not our zeal for truth make our love defective. Same-sex marriage and homosexuality are not abstract theological issues. These are people that we are talking about. As Jonathan Akin recently tweeted, "May we Christians be more tolerant than the tolerance crowd - truly loving & being kind to those who disagree with us."
My name is Nick. I am the Pastor for Worship at Sojourners Church in Albert Lea, MN. I love Jesus, music, the outdoors, Pad Thai, and the movie Stand By Me. I'm trying to live the tensions of life well.