Thursday, March 12, 2009

They are the warriors

I'm impressed that Dr. David Powlison, adjunct professor of Westminster Theological Seminary (Philadelphia) and faculty member at Christian Counseling & Educational Foundation (CCEF), has responded with compassion and openness to Wesley Hill's article on being a celibate homosexual Christian. Justin Taylor's interview of Dr. Powlison today demonstrates that in Reformed Christian circles people are willing to discuss this issue thoughtfully in light of the truths of the gospel.

The only point I would add to Dr. Powlison's comments is that I think his approach to Wesley Hill's situation doesn't need to be so complicated. Dr. Powlison talks about the challenge of being both "fierce" in our "advocacy of a Christian sexual ethic" and yet showing "tenderness toward strugglers." "Can we be tenderly fierce and fiercely tender?" he asks. He uses the analogy of "the trumpet" and "the cello," one a call to righteousness and the other a call to sorrow and sympathy. And so the challenge, according to Dr. Powlison, is in trying to bring these seemingly opposing forces together into a harmonious balance when dealing with this issue.

And I agree that we must have both, which is why I wholeheartedly support my brother Wesley every step of the way in his struggle to remain celibate. By supporting him I am being fierce in my stand against homosexual sin, because I am supporting Wesley's fierce struggle against his homosexual sin. Is there anyone who is taking a more fierce stand against sin than Wesley and others like him? Is there anyone whose life trumpets the call to righteousness more loudly than Wesley's life, when he struggles and struggles each day to bear his cross amidst scoffers both within the church and without?

Supporting our celibate homosexual brothers and sisters with tenderness and compassion is the fierce stand we take for righteousness, because they are the warriors. There is no dichotomy. Pour your ministry into them and they will become fiercer still. Play your cello with passion and their trumpets will sound more clearly.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

What it's like to be you

Some interesting discussion has cropped up on Justin Taylor's blog regarding Wesley Hill's recent article, in which Wesley talks about the need for celibate homosexual Christians like himself to be supported by the love of brothers and sisters in Christ.

From reading this discussion, I'm encouraged to see that there is a new generation of straight, conservative Christians who want to be compassionate toward those who struggle with homosexual desires. They don't want to act like Pharisees, callously dismissing fellow Christians as if they don't share the same struggles. They really desire to minister effectively to Christians like Wesley. When I look at this group, I see hope for the future of the church.

However, there is still some disconnect between even this well-meaning group and the homosexual Christians they desire to minister to. And I think it stems from an (also well-meaning) idea that has been lately floating in the church, namely, that "the sin of homosexuality is just like any other sin."

I can appreciate this latest idea because it is intended to be a corrective to get Christians away from notion that homosexual desire is a special sin of particular depravity. Instead we need to get off our self-righteous horse, look inward, and seek to identify with the struggles of someone who is just like ourselves.

But the downside of "homosexuality is just like any other sin" is that this naturally leads people to say to someone like Wesley, "Well then, why can't you deal with your sin the way I do? Pray for victory, seek God's face, put off the old man and put on the new. And why do you 'need' love from the church body over this? Isn't the love of God in Christ sufficient for you? And aren't you being defeatist by calling yourself a Homosexual Christian? I don't identify with my sin by calling myself an Angry Christian or a Lying Christian."

For this reason, I have never completely agreed with the "homosexuality is like any other sin" approach. Among those desires and compusions that we call sin, I believe homosexuality belongs in a unique category of its own. And while it often helps to understand the involuntary nature of homosexual attraction by comparing it with lust, anger, covetousness, and so forth, at the same time it is critical to understand homosexuality as more a condition than merely a desire or compulsion. "Condition" as in: we are all born into this world in a fallen condition in Adam, which no human effort is going to alter prior to the bodily resurrection

I've become convinced that people's experience of finding themselves homosexual is something that was completely beyond their control. In fact, the experience is nearly parallel to finding oneself heterosexual. From childhood there was never a moment when you laid claim on it, rather it seemed to lay claim on you. You found yourself relating one way to kids of the same sex and another way to kids of the opposite sex, before you even knew or cared what sex was. The whole thing was bewildering to begin with, but when puberty hit it went off the charts, and it became clear what orientation you were.

If you were lucky enough to be straight, your healthy adult life was just beginning, and you could channel your sexual energies into acceptable social relationships with the goal of marriage. But if you were gay, you knew you were headed smack into a world full of people who would never stop questioning you about the moral direction you apparently took back when you never knew you were heading in a moral direction. Back when you thought your world consisted only of McDonald's shakes and riding your bike without training wheels. The question becomes particularly disturbing for kids who grew up in terrific, nurturing Christian families who had always made good moral choices in every other area of their lives.

No wonder when someone asks a gay person, "What makes you think you're gay?" they answer rather lamely, "It's just something I've always known about myself." "Well, can't you change?" "I've tried but nothing works." "Well, can't you try harder?" "You mean, harder than obsessing about it 24/7 for the past 25 years of my life?"

Dealing with homosexuality is not like struggling with just any other sin. In my opinion there does seem to be something hardwired--biological if you will--about homosexuality, because many people report having inklings of self-awareness about their "difference" as early as ages 4 or 5. (In our modern scientific world, would it be fitting to speak of original sin as "the gene of Adam"?) And yet the Bible teaches that acting upon one's homosexual orientation is a sin. This presents a practical problem for the homosexual Christian: While thoughts, emotions, behaviors and attitudes can be suppressed or controlled, such methods only treat the symptoms of what seems to be at the core of his or her sexual make up, so that in order to make the "treatment" work, suppression and control must take place at every waking moment until the day he or she dies.

If every straight person were to stop for five minutes and truly consider the extent to which their own heterosexual orientation has permeated every aspect of the way they have been thinking, feeling and relating to the world since the second grade, and then imagine what it would be like to struggle to suppress every aspect of their heterosexuality all day, every day for years on end, no one would be asking homosexuals questions like, "Why can't you get a grip on your loneliness?" "Can't you ever get over labeling yourself 'gay' or 'homosexual'?" "Why can't you just turn to God for love?"

Instead more people would be saying, "Tell me what it's like to be you." "What can I do to help you make it through today?" "Do you have a free evening to go grab a burger with me?"

Friday, March 06, 2009

The wound that won't go away

If you are a straight conservative Christian, I highly recommend that you read this article by my good friend Wesley Hill, published this week in Ransom Fellowship's Critique magazine. Wesley describes the lonely struggle of remaining celibate as a homosexual Christian, and how having the support of even a few Christian friends can make a seemingly unbearable situation bearable.

If it weren’t for other people, I don’t think I’d make it. For me to live faithfully before God as a sexually-abstinent homosexual Christian must be to trust that God in Christ can meet me in my loneliness not simply with God’s own love but with God’s love mediated through the human faces and arms of my fellow believers.

For all of us who have criticized the immorality and sexual irresponsibility practiced by many in the gay community, how much more earnestly should we support those homosexual Christians who have taken a stand by embracing this highest, most difficult calling of lifelong sexual abstinence? Supporting these brothers and sisters in Christ would demonstrate that our compassion is genuine, that our stand against sexual immorality is true, and that like Jesus we aren't afraid to embrace those whose struggles can only be despised by the self-righteous.