OK – buckle your seatbelts…. this is going to be as close to a rant as I get.
Something’s been bugging me. Sort of like a sliver under your fingernail that you just can’t get out. It had come to my attention that a colleague had told others that “New Direction doesn’t offer hope anymore.”
Now, I’m not looking for sympathy here …. but let’s face it, New Direction deals with a pretty controversial area of ministry. It isn’t easy at the best of times to build credibility and engage pastors and local churches in our work. So, when a ministry colleague, who well knows the challenges facing a ministry like ours, takes a pot-shot at our credibility by saying ‘we no longer offer hope’…. it’s frustrating.
I wondered why this colleague didn’t call me up and say, “Hey I’ve got some concerns about the kind of language I see you using on your website – can you clarify some things for me?” Why didn’t they check out their concerns before spreading a death-knell for credibility and trustworthiness?
So the other night I had the opportunity to have a conversation with this colleague. Turns out, yes, they were concerned that we weren’t offering hope anymore. Seems their big concern was with our distinctive that we are ‘discipleship-focused, not change driven’ – that we seemed to be saying that sexual orientation change wasn’t always possible.
Now I have a bit of a track record for being candid….ok upfront ….. ok downright blunt sometimes. I asked this person if they thought every same-gender attracted follower of Jesus would become fully heterosexual. They said no. But, they said, they saw heterosexuality as part of God’s plan of redemption for people. “Everyone is on a journey towards heterosexuality”, they said, “but some people only go a little way down that road.” So then I asked about the disconnect for same-gender attracted people who don’t experience any significant change in the direction or intensity of their attractions – those who “only go a little way down the road” ….. You see, my concern is that we not set people up for a striving, good-works based gospel. My concern is that we don’t set up a system where people constantly feel like they don’t measure up, that their faith must be deficient…. where they are perpetually vulnerable to a sense of shame and condemnation for simply continuing to be same-gender attracted. This colleague agreed, that wasn’t what they wanted either ….. Then I said, “We’re offering people Jesus Christ – at the centre of their life, identity and sexuality – and Jesus is the hope of the world – how can you say that we’re not offering hope – when we’re offering people Jesus??”
Paul says, “When I came to you, brothers, I did not come with eloquence or superior wisdom as I proclaimed to you the testimony about God. For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. I came to you in weakness and fear, and with much trembling.” (I Corinthians 2: 1-3)
In our wrestling for the blessing for same-gender attracted people, we are emerging in weakness and fear and with much trembling. There is a lot we don’t know about sexual orientation. We don’t really know what causes it, exactly how and what influences it, or how to consistently or permanently affect it. Even our trained counselors are humbled in the face of the complexities and seek to minister with gentleness and discernment. We’ve seen God do amazing things in people’s lives. But is the Christian life about the amazing things God does for us? Or is the Christian life about knowing God and participating with him in his mission to restore the world to right relationship with God?
By making heterosexuality part of God’s redemption plan…. I have to wonder if it isn’t just buying in to the consumer notion of Christianity. “Being a Christian is about getting what you want.”
I just heard the news about a precious little nephew born a few weeks back. Baby John has Down’s Syndrome. Is Down’s God’s best intention for humanity? Should we all now commit ourselves to praying and fasting that God will heal baby John of the reality of his condition? Will we limit John’s experience of faith in Jesus Christ because of his Down’s syndrome?
Before I find myself in a wasp’s nest of controversy, I am not suggesting a one-to-one comparison of Down’s with the experience of same-gender attraction. What I’m simply trying to do is raise some questions about how we go about shaping our theology of redemption.
When I was in seminary, I had an important conversation with my uncle – someone I respect who has been a pastor for many years. I was struggling with a number of doctrinal issues and he said, “Wendy, I’ve always felt that the church needed to focus much more on biblical theology than on systematic theology.”
Systematic theology says, “God’s best intention for human sexual intimacy is the covenant of marriage between husband and wife. Therefore, in God’s plan of restoration and redemption, he will restore heterosexuality to those who do not naturally experience it.” Never-mind that there are deeply devoted disciples of Jesus who have prayed much, experienced much counsel and ministry, and continue to walk day-by-day in the reality of experiencing same-gender attraction.
As for me and my team at New Direction, what we do know, without a shadow of a doubt, is that Jesus Christ is the light of the world. We know he loves all people and all of creation. We know that in him we are accepted by God. We know he offers us abundant life – but that he invites us to experience that through his upside-down economy of suffering, dying to self, taking up our cross and following him. We know that we experience redemption now – as we come to experience intimate relationship with God within the perfect relationship of Father, Son and Spirit.
I don’t think the experience of same-gender attraction is immutable. There seems to be sufficient evidence of the fluidity of sexuality for at least some people to prevent us from putting anyone’s sexuality in a box. But that certainly doesn’t mean everyone’s sexuality can and will change. (ok Karen K. I got sucked in ….. I did end up touching on this question on this blog :))
I’ve heard this very same colleague say that homosexuality is not a salvation issue ….it falls under the realm of sanctification (becoming more like Jesus). Yet, when we, in humbleness, take a step back from the issue of orientation change ….. we no longer offer hope??
Galatians 5:14-16: The entire law is summed up in a single command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” If you keep on biting and devouring each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other.
“Lord, help me to keep my eyes fixed on you – the author and finisher of our faith. Help me to trust you to guard and protect New Direction as you keep leading us to risk and serve and love gay people. And keep my heart soft, open, gracious and forgiving – it’s much easier to just be pissed off. Make me like you.”