As a follow-up to yesterday’s post (“I am a Sodomite”), here is an insightful piece from Dr. Timothy Tennent, President of Asbury Theological Seminary, on why we should make a big deal about homosexuality. While I agree with Dr. Tennett, my concerns about institutionalized covetousness in the Church still stand. Do we really need all the huge buildings!???
… and so are you. Now that I’ve got your attention, what arcane point am I trying to make? I’ve been ruminating on the use of “sodomite” in certain conservative Christian circles. The motive seems to be Christians not wanting to compromise on this important issue and wanting to call a spade a spade. Since so many Christians have prevaricated and danced around the issue of same-sex attraction, we want to boldly call a sin a sin, and so some men that I respect deeply have taken to using the term “sodomy” and “sodomite.” I believe the main target of this epithet is militant, politically-aggressive homosexuals. In reaction, some Christians adopt the visage and manner of a desert prophet in order to meet this challenge head on. I agree with my brothers in their concerns to be bold and courageous in these perilous times. I believe Christianity and Biblical morality is under severe attack, and I support their desire to fight the good fight. However, if they want to talk like Ezekiel-the-sexually-explicit, I hope they can also talk more like Ezekiel in chapter 16 of his magnificent book.
In Ezekiel 16, God pronounces judgment on Jerusalem through Ezekiel, and connections between sexual sin and idolatry are rampant. But, in the midst of this grim sermon, God compares Jerusalem to Sodom. Ezekiel says that Jerusalem has become “more corrupt than they [the Sodomites] in all your ways. As I live, declares the Lord GOD, your sister Sodom and her daughters have not done as you and your daughters have done” (Ezek. 16:47-48). What did Jerusalem do that was so wicked? “Behold, this was the guilt of your sister Sodom: she and her daughters had pride, excess of food, and prosperous ease, but did not aid the poor and needy. They were haughty and did an abomination before me. So I removed them, when I saw it” (Ezek. 16:49-50).
What is interesting is the almost total silence on the issue of homosexuality.
Idolatry always leads to sexual confusion. We are living in the midst of rampant idolatry, and in the midst of rampant sexual confusion, disorder, and an epic struggle to re-define our sexual identities. But, this is nothing new. One reason I love ancient history is that there really is nothing new under the sun. Witness the “ritual castration” of the Galli, the ancient priest who served the “Syrian Goddess,” Atargatis of Hierapolis:
“Lucian’s On the Syrian Goddess 51 tells how men became Galli. While the pipes were wailing and the men were dancing, frenzy seized many of them. The man who was seized stripped off his clothes, grabbed a sword, and castrated himself. He ran through the city and threw what was cut off into any house he chose and took from the house women’s apparel. Thereafter he belonged to the goddess and wore women’s clothes” (Everett Ferguson, Backgrounds of Early Christianity, 264).
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Is is possible to be “gay” and a Christian? “Yes!”, answer the many Christians who openly practice their homosexuality and condemn conservative Christians as intolerant homo-phobiacs. Is it possible to be a Christian and wrestle with homosexual attractions, with no end in sight, no prospect of “healing”? Wesley Hill’s painfully honest book, Washed and Waiting, shows that this is indeed a reality for many gay Christians.
Let me admit that I took some time to open up to Hill’s perspective. I come from the Jay Adams, “Nouthetic Counseling” approach, informed by testimonies from the ex-gay movement exemplified by Exodus International and writers like Joe Dallas and Anne Paulk. My research so far has encouraged me in the belief that the people I know and love who are struggling with homosexuality can find healing and release from what I believe is emotional and sexual bondage. Then I read Hill’s moving book. Hill confesses his long struggle with homosexual attractions, and shares some of his victories (and his defeats). But he says repeatedly that he is still “waiting.” For him, the temptations are still present and the daily battle is intense. I think what finally won me over was Hill’s brutal honesty, as well as his unrelenting search for answers.
Although this is Hill’s first book, he is not a lightweight. There is plenty of theological substance here to wrestle through (he is pursuing a Ph.D. in New Testament at Durham University). I really appreciated how he did not simply pull out a few proof-texts against homosexuality. Rather, he showed how sexual desire, longing, and brokenness are part of the New Testament narrative of fall and redemption. He writes:
“In the end, what keeps me on the path I’ve chosen is not so much individual proof texts from Scripture or the sheer weight of the church’s traditional teaching against homosexual practice. Instead, it is, I think, those texts and traditions as I see them from within the true story of what God has done in Jesus Christ–and the whole perspective on life and the world that flows from that story, as expressed definitively in Scripture … I abstain from homosexual behavior because of the power of that scriptural story” (pg. 61).
Hill powerfully argues for celibacy as the only option for gay Christians who are waiting for healing. In our sex-saturated culture, this is one of the most helpful parts on the book. We sometimes forget that Jesus Christ lived and ministered as a single, celibate man.
I’m very thankful for Wesley’s willingness to share his struggles with the world. Anyone who wants to understand how to better minster to those struggling with sexual brokenness needs to read this book!
(Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher through the Zondervan book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255.)
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
“Considering the fact homosexuality is evident in all aspects of American life, we shouldn’t be surprised at the number of Christians who deal with it as well. What is surprising is the lack of assistance available to such Christians, in spite of the growth experienced by the few ministries that do offer help.” (Joe Dallas, Desires in Conflict: Hope for Men Who Struggle with Sexual Identity, 24).
W.P. Campbell’s new book, Turning Controversy in Church Ministry, will help fill the gap Joe Dallas describes. Campbell is a pastor in the PCUSA (Presbyterian Church, USA), which has become more and more liberal in its acceptance of gays. (This is the denomination I spent my teen years in, and I remember hearing about the first heated debates about this in the 90s.) Campbell has been an active participant in these growing pains, and I respect his attempt to really understand what pro-gay theologians and activists have said.
Since he has obviously put in time researching this issue, and since he actually ministers to homosexuals, it lends enormous credibility to his position. He disagrees with the conclusions of pro-gay theology, and he believes that homosexuality behavior is a sin. But, that does not stop him from exhorting all churches to welcome, and minister to, the sexually broken.
I found his treatment of “sexual brokenness” to be especially helpful. We are all sexually broken, or messed up. Some of us are broken heterosexually, and some of us are broken homosexually. Christ came to heal our brokenness, not condemn us as hopeless perverts. Campbell makes the interesting point that the gay community is often called “the family.” It’s no coincidence that many people turn to homosexuality because they find a love there they never had in their own families. Sadly, they probably never felt this love in their churches, either. We need to focus on really, truly, loving others in our churches. We need to be honest about our own sexual struggles. Hopefully, that will create a culture of transparency, where those struggling with same-sex attraction will feel safe to open up and talk about their struggles.
Campbell has lots of wisdom and practical advice to offer in this book. I highly recommend it for all pastors, leaders in churches, teachers in Christian schools, and anyone who knows someone who is gay. Given the way our culture is deteriorating, you may be surprised at how many gay people you know, or how many people might be secretly struggling with same-sex attraction in your church, school, or family.