Someone has anonymously commented on my last post – and given that my response to them was getting longer and longer – I decided to just make it it’s own post.
This commenter asked: “How do we get to the point of seeing this issue as an area of disagreement rather than a salvation issue?”
This is a core question – and not one I have a perfect and complete answer for. But here are some thoughts:
If we are saved by grace alone through faith in Jesus Christ, then the issue of salvation is wrapped up in this truth. (Romans 5:1-3) Jesus Christ has already accomplished all that is needed for us to be restored to living relationship with God – for now and eternity. This reality is actualized as we are aware and receptive to this invitation of relationship. This reality cannot be earned or destroyed because of what we do. Our experience of this reality may be marred by what we do – but the reality of our redemption is secure in Christ. All of us find ourselves falling short of the glory of God deserving of eternal separation from God. But thanks be to God, we have been reconciled in Christ. The tragedy is that there are human beings who do not accept or acknowledge the reality of this reconciliation that is their’s in Christ.
Now – there will be Christians who disagree on this understanding of justification – and if so, it may be very difficult for them to bridge the gap in viewing those who disagree with them on homosexuality as just as caught up in the reconciling reality of Christ as they are. But for those who can and do embrace this understanding of justification, there is hope for viewing fellow Christians who disagree with us on any number of topics (homosexuality just being one) as positioned to receive the same free gift of grace and redemption through Christ.
(Note: For those of you who now think I’m a universalist, let me clarify that while I do not believe our actions can destroy the redemption that Christ has accomplished on our behalf – I do see that such redemption is effective through our receptivity of it. Therefore, if a human being refuses to receive the reality of their redemption, it ceases to be actualized for them. For a more robust articulation of this understanding of justification, I might suggest reading Baxter Kruger – an actual theologian – which I am not.)
So, I view sexual ethics then as an issue of sanctification (the process of becoming more like Christ) – not justification. This frees me to engage my brothers and sisters who testify to being receptive of Christ’s accomplished redemption on their behalf – regardless of where they are at in the process of sanctification and including those who disagree with me about areas that need sanctifying. For example, take an issue like divorce. Christians disagree on the acceptability of divorce and remarriage. But despite these disagreements, most Christians would view a divorced and/or remarried person who identifies as a Christian to be a genuine follower of Jesus.
Those who share this view of justification, even those who hold a very conservative view of sexual ethics, have the capacity to be able to receive someone who holds a different perspective than they do as a mutual pilgrim on the journey of faith – seeking to know and live out God’s will for their lives. Because the area of sexual ethics can be so charged, so threatening, so frightening, I think it is important in conversations about homosexuality to remind one another of the basis of our justification. We may disagree with a gay Christian’s decision to marry or be in relationship with a same-gender partner, but if we revisit the question of justification then we will hopefully have the humility and grace to understand that this individual has just as much access to live in the reality of Christ’s redemption as anyone else does. (Ephesians 2:8-10) And then hopefully we will recognize that it is truly only God who can judge the receptivity of the fullness of Christ’s redemption in any human heart. By being a recipient of the free gift of grace, I am then invited to extend the same grace to others – entrusting them and their understanding of Scripture in relation to issues of sanctification to God.
Now this can leave many unanswered questions. I’ll surmise on some of the common ones I hear:
“Do I never share what I believe with the other person?”
Sharing what we believe with someone who holds a different perspective than we do is always a matter of discernment and ought to require of us to search our own motives. If we are sharing what we believe in the context of relationship, where there is rapport and trust established, where we have demonstrated that we are as willing to listen as to speak, then we are most likely to encounter receptivity on the other person’s part to at least listen. If we are sharing what we believe because we have sensed the Holy Spirit nudging us to speak, and we’ve waited for a sense of confirmation, then we are most likely to encounter receptivity. If we are sharing what we believe from a place of love – and not from fear or a desire to control – then we are most likely to encounter receptivity. And if we are able to share with no strings attached, (ie. “If you don’t agree with me – this relationship is done.) truly entrusting the other person to Christ with the full assurance that the Holy Spirit is more than able to convict and challenge them in the appropriate areas at the appropriate times, then I think we can be useful in building bridges. (I Peter 3:15)
“What boundaries on behaviour should a church have?”
Any church community needs to have clear and shared understanding about appropriate behaviour for those who identify as followers of Jesus Christ, called to be his representatives in the world. (An example of such a process is found in Acts 15) On the issue of homosexuality, some church communities will have a consensus that homosexual behaviour is precluded by Scripture. Other church communities will have consensus that homosexual behaviour expressed in committed, monogamous relationships can be consistent with living a God-honouring life. And then there are church communities where there is a lack of consensus because different people have different perspectives. This last description is one that I see more and more frequently. There may be official policies on the books of the church – but in reality, there is diversity of perspective. One way that such a church can move forward is to have a clear and shared understanding that the issue of homosexuality is a disputable matter in that congregation – that members will not sit in judgment over one another – and that there will be a commitment to honour each other’s true convictions on this topic. Wherever a church finds itself, I think everyone benefits from a clear understanding of where a church is landing. This means the members are clear on the expectations and it means those who visit or consider attending (including gay people) will have a clear understanding with no surprises down the road. Part of this clear understanding will need to articulate a church’s position on specific questions like leadership roles, church membership, and marriage. Regardless of the position a church takes, I believe each congregation needs to be challenged and encouraged to be a welcoming place to all people – including those who hold a different perspectives.
“How do I correct a brother or sister in Christ who is making choices I believe are inconsistent with Scripture?”
Similar to my responses to the first question, words of correction require discernment, maturity and humility. Scripture teaches us that as a follower of Jesus we are not an island. God places us in community and we are encouraged to not give up meeting together. (Hebrews 10:25) Doing life together is a significant factor in growing spiritually – and part of that means that we need to care for one another enough to confront and correct one another. Such correction always needs to come with gentleness and not out of fear or anger. (II Timothy 4:2)
“If gay people can go to heaven even if they are in a gay relationship – then why would any gay people choose celibacy or try to pursue the opportunity for a healthy heterosexual marriage?”
I often encounter a fear among conservative Christians that if we are too accepting of gay-affirming Christians then we’ll all just slide down the slippery slope of liberalism and relativism. I hear a lot of fear in this kind of response, fear for the future of the church. What those of us who are seeking to build bridges need to stay connected to is the truth that God is in control. We don’t need to control everything – God is in control. God, through the generations, has spoken and is speaking and will speak. Scripture tells us that God’s Word is alive and active and powerful. (Hebrews 4:12) God will continue to speak to individuals and to church communities, convicting, challenging, encouraging, and leading. There will continue to be people who experience same-gender attraction who believe God is calling them to refrain from engaging in a gay relationship. There will continue to be people who experience same-gender attraction who believe the integration of their faith and sexuality leads them to make a life-long commitment to a same-sex partner. People will live out their convictions in different ways. This has always been a reality in the church – and will be a reality in the future. There are so many different areas in each of our lives where we could be more fully living out God’s best intentions for us. None of us hits the mark. Which is why we are a people who live by grace. Not a cheap grace – doing whatever we feel like and assuming God’s grace will cover it anyway. But rather, the grace of knowing that though we can never measure up, can never fulfill God’s law, can never be fully like Christ this side of heaven, Christ has made a way for us to be reconciled to God. (Romans 3:23) For example, Scripture tells us to sell all we have to give to the poor, to deny ourselves, to pour out our lives on behalf of the weak and needy….. how many of us live that out fully? How many of us, in the fat, wealthy Western church, have come to terms with our wealth, see it as God’s blessing, and live at peace with God? There would be those who radically disagree – who have sold all they have and are living among the poor. When those who live among the poor can have the grace and maturity and humility to accept those of us who continue to live in bigger houses than we need, continue to buy more stuff than we possibly can use, eat more food than our bodies require etc., I think they model for us a way to be the Body of Christ together – accepting that we all need to wrestle with God is asking of us in our lives. (Colossians 3:13)
I received an email some weeks ago from a ministry leader. He spoke about how he has always believed that God’s best intention is for same-gender attracted people to not express that in sexual behaviour or relationships. He has owned and lived out that conviction, first as a single man for many years, and now as happily married man with his wife. But he also readily acknowledged the faith of gay people who hold a gay-affirming perspective. It seems to me, that there is more of a spaciousness in which such perspectives can be shared today than there was even just five or ten years ago. I pray that such spaciousness arises from a place of grace, humility and maturity – and from a radical faith in a radical God who extends the redemption won through Christ to all people.
These are some of my thoughts ….. What do you think?