Q Gay Discussion a Mixed Bag

I am in Boston this week, attending my third Q conference. And like the Q conferences I’ve attended before, this one is inspiring, thought-provoking – and unsettling. Many of Thursday’s sessions addressed the gay dilemma in the church, either directly or indirectly. Though several conference speakers, including Q founder Gabe Lyons, upheld an orthodox Christian view of sexuality, audience response clearly showed that a sizeable minority of the Christian leaders here support gay inclusion. And tragically, no speaker really offered a compelling view of orthodox Christian sexuality. Instead, author Debra Hirsch’s talk on “Redeeming Sex” offered more titillation than truth, comparing heaven to “a continuous orgasm” and relaying questions like: “I asked Jesus into my heart, but how do I get him into my (sex organ)?”

Hirsch’s talk was the first of three afternoon talks that specifically addressed sexuality and/or homosexuality. I agreed with Hirsch’s criticism that the church has failed to address human sexuality properly – that it tends to breed a fear of sexuality; reduces male/female or masculine/feminine to merely the physical; and fosters few positive conversations about sexuality. I also wholeheartedly agree with Hirsch that the church needs to develop a robust theology of sexuality. The problem is that Hirsch didn’t offer any solid theology; instead, she delivered a mix of pop psychology and opinion. She suggested there is “social sexuality” and “genital sexuality”; “multiple masculinities and femininities”; and then spoke of the need to bring sexuality and spirituality together – again, offering vague definitions of both without grounding any of her assertions in Scripture.

“Completely absent was the view that God can redeem sexuality in any way….However, in many Christian circles today, if you even hint that you might believe sexuality is within the scope of God’s ability to redeem, you’re marginalized as an alleged proponent reparative therapy.”

 I couldn’t help but long for someone like Christopher West to follow Hirsch and fill the vacuum on sexuality she had created. West beautifully explains John Paul II’s Theology of the Body, a comprehensive collection of teachings on the meaning and purpose of the human body. Drawing on Scripture and established theological tradition, he explains how uniting male and female in marriage wondrously expresses the mystery of the life and love of the Trinity – and how marriage is the primary metaphor revealing the divine-human drama. (After all, Scripture begins with the marriage of Adam and Eve and ends with the wedding feast of the Lamb.)

Unfortunately, Q attenders weren’t exposed to any of this rich theology. Instead, what followed was a discussion on the “The Church’s Gay Dilemma” between Matthew Vines and Julie Rodgers. Vines is the author of “God and the Gay Christian” and founder of the Reformation Project, which seeks to train Christians to support and affirm LGTBQ people. (I had Vines on Up For Debate in June to debate Dr. Michael Brown on whether one can be gay and Christian.) Rodgers is a gay, celibate Christian whose hiring to work in the chaplain’s office at Wheaton College last year sparked controversy.

Vines reiterated the same arguments that he does in his book. One, that condemnation of same-sex relationships can’t be a “good tree,” so to speak, because it yields the “bad fruit” of brokenness and pain among same-sex attracted people. Vines also argued that condemnation of same-sex behavior in Scripture can be reduced to just six passages. (Again, had a solid theology of marriage and family been presented at Q, this premise would have been exposed as completely invalid because the marriage metaphor permeates Scripture from beginning to end.) Vines then asserted that monogamous same-sex relationships weren’t “on the radar of the biblical writers.” They envisioned homosexuality only as a promiscuous excess of sexuality. As result, their seemingly wholesale condemnation of homosexuality needs to be re-interpreted as only condemning homosexual sex outside of committed monogamous relationships.

Rodgers, though she identifies as gay, affirmed the sexual boundaries expressed in Scripture as good: “I just trust that the boundaries God put around sexuality are for our flourishing.” And, she brilliantly responded to Vines’ argument that the biblical writers were simply ignorant when it came to same-sex monogamous relationships. Her quip, “I don’t think God was like, ‘Whoa, where did they come from? Gays, who knew?’” elicited a big laugh from the audience. Yet she, perhaps rightly, accused the church of applying a double-standard when it comes to homosexuality, stating that she knows several LGBT people who have been asked to leave the church, but not one (I’m assuming promiscuous) straight person.

This led to a brief discussion, or confession, of the church’s transgressions in this area. Lyons, though he affirmed orthodox teaching on sexuality, lamented the callous and sometimes abusive way the church has treated gays. And, Rodgers challenged the church to be as serious about the call to hospitality (i.e. welcoming same-sex attracted people into relationship) as it is to sexual purity.

Overall, I thought this discussion was positive. However, it had a glaring omission. Completely absent was the view that God can redeem sexuality in any way. In fact, at one point, Lyons stated that only a small percentage of people have experienced any change in their sexuality and referenced Alan Chambers, the former president of the now-shuttered ex-gay ministry Exodus International. Chambers famously stated that “99.9 percent of people I met through Exodus’ ministries had not experienced a change in orientation.”

Interestingly, though, the only substantive study of people who have claimed to experience a change in sexual orientation tells a different story. In fact, that study by Dr. Stanton Jones and Dr. Mark Yarhouse showed that 23% of those studied reported success in the form of “conversion” to heterosexual orientation and functioning. Another 30% reported they were able to live chastely and had “disidentified” themselves from homosexual orientation. None of the subjects studied reported that they had been harmed in any way by seeking change. (For a fantastic explanation of this study and the limits of the social sciences to settle the moral debate over homosexuality, I highly recommend Dr. Jones’ article in First Things.)

However, in many Christian circles today, if you even hint that you might believe sexuality is within the scope of God’s ability to redeem, you’re marginalized as an alleged proponent of reparative therapy. I have never believed in reparative therapy, but I do believe in the transformative power of the gospel. At my church, there are literally dozens of people who at one time struggled with same-sex attraction, but do so no more. So, this narrative that sexuality is a fixed and immutable trait is difficult for me to swallow. And, it strikes me as ironic that those, like Lyons and Rodgers, who uphold an orthodox Christian view of sexuality because they believe Scripture trumps experience rely solely on experience to discredit the possibility of sexual redemption. In truth, the view that sin tendencies, sexual or otherwise, are immutable is not only non-existent in Scripture; it’s contradictory to Scripture.

“How can believers assert that sexuality is somehow exempt from the transformative power of the Spirit?”

Unfortunately, this view of homosexuality as an immutable trait was again presented in the next Q talk on sexuality – a discussion between ethicist David Gushee and Pastor Dan Kimball on whether the church’s historic teaching on sexuality is reliable. This discussion was fascinating, though, because the friendships the two gentlemen had with gays led to completely different conclusions. As Gushee explained, he once held that homosexuality was wrong. But, then he got to know some LGBT Christians and his sister came out as gay. This broke his heart and caused him to re-examine his interpretation of Scripture. He then concluded “that we’ve (Christians) been wrong on this as we have been wrong on some issues in the past.”

Kimball, on the other hand, came to Christ as an adult and explained that as a non-Christian musician, he had lots of friends who were gay. However, when he became a believer, he immersed himself in Scripture and realized the necessity of placing the Word above experience. This led him to believe that homosexual practice is sin.

Gushee, reiterating some of the prior assertions, then said that condemnation of homosexuality “creates a disastrous box,” which gays “cannot escape.” He called the established Christian understanding of sexuality a “toxic body of tradition that bears bad fruit,” delivering “harm, rather than care.” At this point, Lyons interjected, suggesting that the “definition of love is up for debate right now.” Is the “truest love” encouraging same-sex attracted people to embrace and express their attraction? Or, do we accept the traditional Christian narrative – that calling people to forsake those tendencies will “lead to their flourishing”?

“I think if the Spirit can raise the dead, He can radically change every aspect of our lives, including our sexuality. I’m hoping I’ll hear this perspective at Q today, but I’m afraid it’s become so marginalized and politically incorrect that no one dares speak it.”

This really is the central question in the church’s debate on this issue right now. And honestly, if Christians are going to forsake sexual transformation of any kind as a possibility for same-sex attracted people, then the future they ask same-sex attracted people to embrace is pretty bleak. I’m not saying that God might not choose to allow some Christians to struggle with same-sex attraction for a lifetime and to give them the grace to endure it joyfully. I also appreciate people like Julie Rodgers, who are willing to walk this difficult path and pay the high cost of discipleship if that’s what it takes.

But how can believers assert that sexuality is somehow exempt from the transformative power of the Spirit?  What hope, then, is there for porn addicted believers or habitual adulterers or sex addicts?
Romans 8 says that the “Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead” is living in us. Call me crazy, but I think if the Spirit can raise the dead, He can radically change every aspect of our lives, including our sexuality. I’m hoping I’ll hear this perspective at Q today, but I’m afraid it’s become so marginalized and politically incorrect that no one dares speak it. This grieves me deeply because I think our church and society desperately needs an empowered gospel, not the impotent one so prevalent in many churches today. If we lose our faith in radical transformation, then what gospel are we advancing?
Photo via Q Ideas

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7 thoughts on “Q Gay Discussion a Mixed Bag

  1. I enjoyed this post very much. That is why I wrote my latest blog on the motivation of people who claim a certain way of living then go “re-examine” Scripture to change their views on traditional aspects of the Christian faith. It worries me that some people may not realize that they are opening a dangerous door of Scripture “needing” to be re-interpreted every time the surrounding culture presents an ideology that conflicts with the truth found Jesus – the Word of God!

  2. Deana M. Holmes

    Orthodox Christian sexual theology posits that women are owned, first by their fathers, then by their husbands. As a never-married, childless, middle-aged, non-virgin woman, I’m profoundly aware of how much I break the mold. We are the hidden people, the fifth wheel of Christianity, we don’t fit because we failed the prime directive to get married and have children.

    Orthodox Christian sexual theology also says I must never engage in genital sex unless I get married. Seriously, that’s not even beginning to speak to the situation my sisters and I (and my brothers) live in. Telling us we’re all wretched sinners because we actually OMG have sex is a non-starter. At least Jesus decided he could talk and eat with prostitutes and other notorious sinners! Too bad his followers are afraid to strike up conversations with those of us outside your charmed circle (especially those of us who found your charmed circle to be stifling and confining).

    “Conversations” like Q Boston sound edgy (wow a gay man spoke for himself!) until you venture outside the Christian bubble. Then you discover that the larger culture is simply disinterested in pronouncements from on high which do not consider where we are at.

    • Jerome Danner

      Ms. Holmes,

      I think in some of the things that you just wrote you make some interesting points.

      May I ask where in the Bible it states that men are allowed ownership of women?

      Have a blessed day!

      Jerome

  3. Dan

    Thanks for your thoughts, Julie. It strikes me whenever the comment is made that the church has done an aweful job of talking about sex (which I tend to think it has) that perhaps the issue is that the church has so much more to talk about. Just because our society and the entertainment industry wants to talk about sex 24/7 does not mean that the church should follow suit.

  4. There is a difference between orientation/preference (which is merely a temptation), and lifestyle (action, which is either sin — or not sin -depending on the action).

    Orientation – and lifestyle = BIG difference! >>Proof:

    Even Jesus was tempted – yet without sin: Hebrews 4:15.

    The matter is fully explored in my brief, for which I am asking leave (permission) for file in the US Supreme Court, like the appeals court let me – in defense of Biblical marriage, but in a way that is respectful to gays, and addresses some of their legitimate complaints:

    http://www.PrWeb.com/releases/2015/03/prweb12608035.htm

    http://www.prweb.com/releases/2015/03/prweb12608018.htm

    the Appeals Court DID let me file: http://www.prweb.com/releases/2014/12/prweb12361433.htm what’s the problem with the high court… :(

    See also: http://www.SupremeCourt.gov/Search.aspx?FileName=%2Fdocketfiles%2F14-8744.htm

    For case files: see Lady Justice, on the right, and look beneath her:

    http://GordonWatts.com

    http://GordonWayneWatts.com

    Gordon Wayne Watts
    LAKELAND, Fla. (between Tampa & Orlando)

  5. Janet O'Hara

    Who do we worship? God. Or sex? To not have sex at all does not make a person’s life useless, and not worth living! If the ability to have sex was taken away, would we all want to just die? I believe we are lifting it up WAY too high and the world is consumed with thinking about it. A young person gets to a certain age and the world says “well, what are you? Gay or straight, or transgender? Declare yourself, so you can get into having sex a sap and not miss out!” It’s how we “come of age ” in America! Have sex! Very sad!

  6. Thank you for approving my prior post, but anyhow, I just noticed something I overlooked earlier:

    Quote from the article: “Overall, I thought this discussion was positive. However, it had a glaring omission. Completely absent was the view that God can redeem sexuality in any way…But how can believers assert that sexuality is somehow exempt from the transformative power of the Spirit? What hope, then, is there for porn addicted believers or habitual adulterers or sex addicts?”

    Excellent points!!

    Dumb Question: Please excuse my dumb question, but I just don’t know.

    Why did you not raise these issues in the conference itself? Was there not a “Question and Answer” protocol after any of the sessions, to allow audience participation?

    Follow-up question: If there were questions, what was asked, and what were the answers – and, was this asked (or, if not, why not)?

    Thank you,

    Gordon Wayne Watts
    LAKELAND, Fla. (between Tampa & Orlando)

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