Thursday, October 01, 2015

Brothers and Sisters

Do not rebuke an older man but encourage him as you would a father, younger men as brothers, older women as mothers, younger women as sisters, in all purity. 1 Timothy 5:1-2
I've been thinking for the last few weeks how evangelicals have lost the mentality of family that Paul exhorts here, at least in our public conversations around gender and our actions between genders. For a while, really more than a decade from my perspective, gender conversations among evangelicals have been primarily focused on husbands and wives (or some version of that focus)--encouraging healthy marriages, discouraging relationships outside of marriage, discipling men to be good husbands, discipling women to be good wives, and so forth. I think many of these conversations have been valuable to the church. What does marriage that is in Christ between image-bearers of God look like? Believers must be discipled on this!

But note that Scripture talks of husbands and wives singularly, “the husband of one wife.” The global application of the marriage relationship is only between Jesus and His Church, never between men and women in general. No analogy from the marital relationship transfers to average male/female relationships. In contrast, Scripture speaks of fathers, daughters, mothers, sons, brothers and sisters as categories applied generally outside of biological family.

The average Christian woman knows and interacts with hundreds of men in her lifetime, maybe more, but in most cases only ONE of those men will ever be her husband. Many in conservative evangelicalism respond to that fact by encouraging and discipling women in ways that support only that one relationship with that one man. Instead, women (and men) need to be discipled to image out Christ in the myriad of other cross gendered relationships they have.

Mark 3:35 “For whoever does the will of God, he is my brother and sister and mother.”

In my experience, men and women in the conservative church are mostly encouraged to not have any of those relationships at all beyond a superficial level. The fear that an inappropriate relationship between the sexes will develop justifies for many the avoidance of any male/female relationship outside of marriage. I'm afraid that in an effort to avoid inappropriate relationships between men and women, we have forgotten to foster appropriate ones.  As one friend said, we focus so on the word "purity" in I Timothy 5 that we forget that the context is a familial relationship in which such purity is the norm.

We should seek to be consistent with the example of Scripture, particularly in the ways the book of Acts and writings of Paul speak of relationships in the New Testament Church between genders. Consider both Paul's outright instructions to Timothy and his own example of how he related to women in the Church. Paul had a relationship with Phoebe. He knew Eudodia and Syntyche well. They worked together, and he spoke of them as sisters. He exhorted Timothy to think of the women around him as family as well. Paul shows us that the default mode between genders in the Church is familial—moms and sons, dads and daughters, brothers and sisters.
Romans 16:1 I commend to you our sister Phoebe, a servant of the church at Cenchreae,
Capitulation to Culture 

While sex outside of marriage has always been a fairly common sin, we live today in a sex-crazed culture. On steroids. And Christians, particularly conservative ones, have allowed an increasingly sexually obsessed culture to infiltrate the church. Even when it infiltrates in its negative sense (when we prohibit sex outside of marriage and teach against looking at another woman with lust), it still infiltrates. We try to protect our families from sinful sexual relationships. But we have still kept a sexual axis as the primary issue between genders and just tried to move the church in the opposite direction. We don't need more fences. We don't need a stronger negative push against sinful sexual relationships.  We need to foster a different mindset altogether. The church needs to plow a counter culture. It needs a new axis on gender, orthogonal to the sexual one, that equips us to live affirmatively in male/female relationships in the Body of Christ.

Our culture in Christ should be that of FAMILY.

Watching the Duggar family struggle through their scandals the last few months helped solidify this in my mind. No family had better fences against a sex-crazed culture. But the fences didn't work. Instead, sexual attraction entered the very family relationships that should have been the most immune to them. When young men are taught to guard themselves from all women, that the primary sin issue to be wary of with the opposite sex is sex itself, don't be surprised when that teaching infiltrates relationships between brothers and sisters. Josh Duggar should have learned a different kind of relationship with his sisters, a healthy one in which sexual temptation was anathema. Then from practicing healthy family relationships with the opposite sex, he would have a foundation for treating other women as sisters. Instead, the opposite happened. Hyper focus on sexual temptation resulted in temptation entering a relationship in which it should have never been named.

Rather than pushing back on the sexual axis, how can the church plow a counter culture on gender? How do we frame the conversations between men and women on a different axis altogether from our sex-crazed secular culture? I don't fully know, and I'm willing to admit that. I do know that I have practiced this mentality without knowing I was doing so. In particular, I have known my fair share of handsome pastors and elders with engaging personalities.  I highlight the role of pastor and elder because that's been a personality type with which my heart naturally resonated.  In my twenties and thirties, I felt some temptation at times to lust. Women don't tend toward physical lust nearly as much as emotional and spiritual lust. When those feelings started to crowd my mind in relationship with someone, I disciplined myself. “That's inappropriate,” I would tell myself. “He's my brother!” There is only ever to be ONE relationship with the opposite sex in which we have anything other than that mentality. Lust should feel dissonant in any other relationship.  But we need to be discipled in that mentality.

Perhaps the first step to establishing this better axis for male/female relationships in the Body of Christ is simply awareness. In fact, I think meditating on this axis and teaching on this axis may be the primary thing the Church needs to do to reclaim it in the Body of Christ. I already see growth among mature believers on this topic and have several arenas in which I see healthy male/female brother/sister relationships in the Body of Christ. I enjoy talking with my brothers and sisters in Christ. I am willing even to disagree with them. But I also love them and seek their benefit in our conversations.  I hope to contribute to health in their marriages, joy with their children, or hope for their future relationships if they aren't married now.

Because that's how the family of God works.

Friday, September 11, 2015

The Practice of Believing the Best

There was another social media stoning last week. There's probably been two more since then, but I am trying to avoid them, so I don't know. The one I watched last week reminded me of the 2nd greatest command to love our neighbors as ourselves coupled with Paul's description of love in I Corinthians 13:7, love hopes all things and believes all things. The love that God commands is ever ready to believe the best of someone.

In my experience, the biggest concern people have with believing the best is the fear of being proven wrong. Fool me once, shame on you. But fool me twice, it's shame on me, right? But note the point of Paul's instructions on love. Every description of love in I Corinthians 13 is meaningless without the context of tension or conflict. You do good to your friend who always does good to you, Jesus says? Well, sinners directly opposed to God can do that.
Matthew 5:43-47 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same?
There are complicating elements on the micro level, particularly in relationships of unequal authority and power. “Trust but verify” is particularly important when engaging as a child or spouse with a parent or spouse of greater physical or financial power who has deeply broken trust before but genuinely seeks to repent and repair. I've written about that at various times and won't rehash it here. 

On the macro level, particularly around social media, I am trying to practice the command to love by believing the best and hoping the best of others. Note that this doesn't mean that I need to look away or deny something that is provably wrong. For instance, if a pastor resigns when under church discipline by his elders to get out from their God-given authority, then until he repents of that and works to walk the road of accountability, there is no benefit of the doubt to be given there. I can however still hope for the best for him. I can hope that he will humble himself, repent specifically, and repair with those he has wronged.

What do we do when there is a question—when something sounds fishy but it could also be above board? If I am suspicious that someone's declaration saying one thing is actually deception that will harm others, the answer is simple. I need to reserve judgement, and if it is relevant to me or others I love (because many times it's really none of our business at all), I need to do some research. In last week's media stoning, it took me about 10 minutes to realize people were totally mistaken in how they represented the person in question.

What if I had given the benefit of the doubt and then was proven wrong? For many, the possibility of being wrong when giving the benefit of the doubt to someone of whom they are suspicious is worth turning towards cynicism instead of practicing I Corinthians 13. But it is in fact NOT worth that at all. There are much worse things than being wounded by someone you gave the benefit of the doubt to. C. S. Lewis said it years ago much better than I could. I found this quote as a college student licking my wounds from some demoralizing rejection, and it has helped me value a soft and open heart in myself even after disheartening loss and painful betrayal.
“To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact you must give it to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements. Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket, safe, dark, motionless, airless, it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. To love is to be vulnerable.” ― C.S. Lewis, The Four Loves
To give the benefit of the doubt is risky. To love as God commands in 1 Corinthians 13 makes you vulnerable. There is no way around it. You may be wounded again. You may be burned again by a Christian leader or demoralized by a friend to whom you opened yourself. But I believe that the alternative, hardening your heart with cynicism that refuses to allow anyone close enough to hurt you again, is a self-defeating coping mechanism.

Believe the best and hope all things. And if you get burned, definitely figure out wise, safe choices you can make (I love the book Safe People). But don't let your coping mechanism be a cynicism that believes the worst and suspects all things. That hurts you and the Body of Christ we all belong to. Practice hoping for the best and giving the benefit of the doubt until you are proven wrong. Because it's a command. One of the greatest ones actually.

Monday, August 24, 2015

Four Weeks of Meditations on Scripture

A few months ago, a friend told me about her process of spending one year meditating on the simple concept of the love of God for His children. I was intrigued by the idea and started to think through a way to make such a study accessible to more women.

Anything I write or produce is born out of something that first ministered to me. And this study is no different. If you are like me, you benefit from something that has Scripture written out for you rather than one that has you looking it up on your own. I fully admit to my laziness and desire to take shortcuts. If I am only given a Scripture reference, nine times out of ten I won't take the time to look it up. So I have always included the Scripture right in my books when it was integral to a point I was trying to make. Because surely I'm not the only lazy reader who is constantly tempted to take short cuts when reading.

Another thing I like to do is interact with what I'm reading. I must have a pen in my hand, and I must have a place to write out little notes. I don't write a lot, and I have never been good at journaling. But I do like to highlight, star things, and write little notes to remind myself of what stood out to me. So in the last few books I've published, I've left room for Reflections at regular intervals.

Finally, I don't like to be overwhelmed when reading. I write short books because I can only read short books. I can read only as much as I can process.

Putting those needs together resulted in booklets that are short and concise. They consist of four weeks of meditations, five days per week. All of the Scripture is written out with room for reflections on the opposite page.

The first one is on the steadfast love of God.

From the back cover:
Shame and self-condemnation keep many believers locked in painful places, unable to look into the mirror spiritually for fear of being undone by their sins and failures. We need to face our sin and failures head on, but before we can, we need to first know the steadfast love of our Father in heaven that equips us to look at such sin and failure without them defining who we are or how God relates to us. If this struggle sounds familiar, come on this simple four week journey through God’s Word concerning His steadfast love for His children, a love that never gives up and never fails.
The second one is for those waiting and enduring a long season of trial or suffering.

From the back cover:
Few believers need to be talked into wanting God's kingdom to come and His will to be done on earth. Instead, much of our struggle in life is tied to the fact that we are still waiting to see all things reconciled to Him. We may be waiting for physical healing. We may long for spiritual healing for a loved one who has walked away from the faith. We may be waiting on reconciliation with another believer or justice for one who has been sinned against and forgotten. These all reflect godly longings. They remind us that God created us for something better. Yet, He calls us to persevere as we wait to see His redemption of all things to Himself. If you find yourself in a season of waiting on the Lord, come on this four week journey through Scripture and hear God's Word to you on persevering in faith.
If you are interested in a free download or in buying a hard copy, here are two links to get you started.

The Steadfast Love of God

Waiting and Enduring

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

A Third Way on Gender in the Church

I first wrote on Things that Undermine the Complementarian Position in 2010 and refined the thoughts in 2012. I wrote on a New Wave of Complementarians in 2013. The response I got convinced me that I wasn't the only person uncomfortable with both the egalitarian and complementarian positions and that the Spirit was moving throughout the Church to refine it and restore His Body to better reflect the early Church in terms of gender. Day after day, week after week, I hear of grassroots movements to reclaim a view of gender in our churches that uses and relies on women in much more robust ways than the conservative American church has done in the last 50 years, but one which also keeps the distinctions in the church and home that have consistently characterized an orthodox, historical understanding of Scripture.

Most public discussions of gender in the evangelical church are debates between complementarians and egalitarians. Those debating provide a spectrum of thought with egalitarian/feminist thinking on one end and patriarchal thinking on the other end (with complementarian thinking a little left of patriarchy). I used to think that the way to handle this in the church was with a new wave of complementarian thinking that pushed toward a Biblical position closer to egalitarian/feminist thinking but that still kept complementarian distinctions. If Patriarchy is a 1, Complementarian is a 2, and Egalitarian is a 9 or 10, I saw myself closer to a 5. I believe in distinctions in the ways the Bible talks of them, but I am thankful for the right to vote and the feminist work to say that women indeed have equal dignity and worth (and subsequent rights) as human beings.

However, I realize through discussions with others and my own ponderings that it doesn't work to think of this as a linear spectrum between egalitarian and patriarchal views. The answer to gender questions in the Church isn't to compromise between egalitarians and complementarians. The Biblical answer in my mind is a third data point that isn't on the line at all. We don't need to come back to a central balance on a see-saw. We need to get off the see-saw and build on a different platform altogether. 

What is the better platform? Well, it helps to understand the foundations of complementarian thought. You and I can say it means this or that for us, but there were a specific group of folks who coined the term and wrote much about it at the time. Many of these leaders have deeply, positively influenced me by the way. The Council of Biblical Manhood and Womanhood rose out of these beginnings. I love the title they came up with for this movement, complementarian, because I love the emphasis on complementing genders. It emphasizes different genders, not always doing the same things, that bring different gifts to the table. But it also lends itself to genders working together, complementing and enhancing the gifts in the other. For a time, I wanted to embrace the name because I liked the concept of complementing genders, but the folks that chose that name have attached other things to the concept that I don't fully embrace, and I can't change that history no matter how much I like the essence of the name. 

The focus on complementing genders that brought about the term complementarian in the late 80's/early 90's was based on Genesis 2 and was a reaction to Third Wave Feminism of the previous decades.
Genesis 2:18 Then the Lord God said, “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him.”
A better platform for understanding gender in the Church is found by starting with Genesis 1 (though it certainly includes Genesis 2) without reacting to any other teaching. Egalitarians react against patriarchy. Complementarians react against feminism. What if we stop reacting and just start acting? What if our doctrinal debates aren't zig zagged like the path of a pinball bouncing off of various pop ups and flipper bats? And what if Target can do whatever it wants with its boys' and girls' aisles because our children are discipled in their distinct but overlapping image bearing identities?

While Genesis 2 and 3 was the starting point of complementarians reacting to feminism, a better foundation starts as God does with Genesis 1. Genesis 2 expands Genesis 1. It zooms in on the particular creation of woman, but it FOLLOWS something else. Genders were first announced in Genesis 1.
26 Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.” 
27 So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. 
28 And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.”
I'm not egalitarian. I'm not complementarian. I'm Imago Dei-rian. Just kidding – I'm not suggesting a new name. However, I am suggesting we go to a new platform for gender discussions and stop letting the egalitarian/complementarian spectrum be the starting point for discussion. We have old doctrines from Scripture to build upon found first here in Genesis 1.

Imago Dei

The Creation Mandate

But Genesis 1 and 2 were quickly followed by Genesis 3. Before we got to see Adam and Eve working together, fitting together as God intended to serve and protect God's creation, they sinned and much was lost. Our gender foundation then needs the Gospel and the Great Commission. Jesus comes to us and redeems all that was lost in the fall so that we can once again be “imitators of God” (Ephesians 5:1). Then He commissions His disciples to go and do it all again with the Great Commission.

Imago Dei
The Creation Mandate
The Gospel!
The Great Commission

These points of Scripture need to be the doctrinal foundation of any new structure on gender. Which is really just a very old structure that we have forgotten to let boys and girls play on together. Before God taught of the complementary nature of gender, He first taught us the unified nature of gender. Male and female were created IN HIS IMAGE. Male and female were tasked with the creation mandate. And when Jesus came to earth to redeem back all that was lost in the fall, He tasked His disciples with the great commission, as God re-dignifies His children by sending them off with His help once again to do His work in the earth. The disciples given this commission show us throughout the rest of the New Testament how much they valued women's integral role working beside them.

Phoebe was a patron of Paul and carried the book of Romans as an officer of the church.

Euodia and Syntyche labored side by side with Paul in the gospel.

Lois and Eunace passed down their faith generation by generation to the great benefit of Paul and the early church.

Priscilla labored with her husband to disciple the influential Apollos.

The same Apostle Paul who wrote of male-only elders and submission of wives to husbands also commended these women who blessed him by their co-labor with him on the same mission, the Great Commission.

As a math educator, I like two math visuals that help me think through this paradigm on gender. The first is a triangle. Imagine egalitarian and partriarchal views as the vertices at either end of the base, A and B. Complementarian thought is on the partriarchal end, point E, but not quite at the vertex. Thoughts on gender founded on Genesis 1 present a third vertex, point C, not on the baseline at all. It can be linked to that other line, but it adds a new dimension altogether.

The other math visual I like is the Venn Diagram. Envision male and female as two circles with overlapping parts. There is overlap, and there are distinctions. In the past, the debates on gender seem to argue for all overlap (egalitarian thinking) or all distinctions (patriarchal thinking). But what if we embraced a great big overlap that also allows for distinction, and place the diagram in the middle of a bigger background called the Image of God? In that paradigm, we can stop debating how much overlap and how much distinction, and instead say yes to both and focus on the context of what both the overlaps and distinctions are supposed to be working toward – the kingdom of God fully realized on earth through His image bearers.

Women should fight and women should teach. Men in the Kingdom of God NEED women to fight and women to teach. But women should Fight Like a Girl and Teach Like a Girl. Man must look at woman and say, “You bring many of the same things I bring to our shared commission by God to fill His creation and share the good news of King Jesus. But you also bring something unique, and I need it.” And woman should look at man and say, “I can help you with this burden. I can do many of the things you can do, but not all. And I bring something unique to our shared mandate to serve and protect God's creation in light of Jesus' sending of His disciples that you need. How can I help you in my home, in my church, and in God's coming kingdom in general?”

Man needs woman to bear God's image into the world.

Woman needs man to bear God's image into the world.

Don't react against feminism (complementarians). Don't react against patriarchy (egalitarians). Don't react at all. Act. Act as image bearers, male and female, jointly tasked with the creation mandate and reaffirmed by Jesus in the Great Commission.

Euodia, Syntyche, Phoebe, and Priscilla.

Helping Paul, Peter, Aquila, and Apollos.

They were joint image bearers reflecting God's reclamation of all that was lost in the fall as He commissioned them (and us) to disciple all nations.  They did this within the parameters He instructed with respect to gender in the church and home.

May we inspire the next generation of disciples to live out their giftings in such a way.

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Gay Image Bearers in the Church

Several friends have asked me lately about how, as a Christian, we need to think about the recent Supreme Court ruling on gay marriage. I can tell you how I think and the principles from Scripture along with the experiences from life that have shaped my response, but your response, gay or straight, has to be yours through the moving of the Holy Spirit through the Word. I hope something I write here is helpful to that end for readers.

I want to write about three things – my understanding of “gay pride,” my understanding of the Old and New Testament instructions forbidding gay sex, and a way forward that centers around discipleship on our essence as humans as image bearers of God.

On Gay Pride 

In talking with friends who experience same sex attraction, some who are practicing and some who are not, I have come to realize that the first reaction most any kid has to feelings of attraction to the same sex is not pride. The fundamental struggle youth have when they are not attracted to the opposite sex is despair. This is reflected in the recent round of public stories of gay teens committing suicide. Gay “pride” is a learned response, a reaction to the deep pain of feeling other. I encourage any believer reading this post to talk to friends or family who experience same sex attraction first hand before you talk much about it publicly. If you don't know anyone personally (though you most likely do), then read Wesley Hill's book, Washed and Waiting. We who don't experience same-sex attraction need to understand the issues from those who do, or we will be completely unhelpful to those working through this in the faith.

Whether someone decides to embrace a gay lifestyle or not, the feeling of otherness seems to remain for many gays. The secular outside world, even gay approving secular media, is dominated by relationships between men and women. (Stereotype alert!) For instance, romance novels and movies geared toward women reflect a romance between a man and woman 99.99% of the time. When every “chick flick” out there reflects a heterosexual relationship but you are a young woman attracted to other women, it makes you feel other, like not a chick at all. Movies geared toward females usually reflect a romance between a man and a woman and movies geared toward men reflect “manly” pursuits like war or fast cars. I agree these are stereotypes, but Hollywood and most media still use them for their primary money making ventures. Along with outside projections from media of otherness, there is the inside struggle as someone feels attractions that don't fit their body's design. Put the outside stereotypes together with the internal struggle, and I quickly understand why kids who first experience attraction to their own sex are moved to such deep despair as to take their own life. And I also understand why others want to put their orientation in a positive light, i. e. “gay pride.”

Frankly, if you experience same-sex attraction and hold to an orthodox view of Scripture, you are in essence embracing a life of suffering. Wesley Hill articulates this well in Washed and Waiting. He also inspired me to persevere in my own suffering, for if we understand anything of Jesus, such suffering is not a life sentence but a path forward. My friends who are gay but believe that God forbids gay sex are some of the most inspiring people I know. They understand a life of suffering, a life of sacrifice. The kind of life that C. S. Lewis and Elisabeth Elliot and Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Corrie Ten Boom got. The kind of life that endures in faith despite the pressures against it, for in that very endurance under pressure, they become diamonds in the Church.

On Old Testament Law 

The second thing I'm thinking about is the woeful misunderstanding people have of the relationship between Old Testament Law and sexual ethics. Oh my word – stop with the shellfish and mixed fabric discussion, please! People pull out the shellfish example and think that, “Poof,” they have disproven the entire discussion around gay sex in Scripture. I certainly can't fault those who don't profess faith in Christ for not understanding how the Old and New Testament work together. But it discourages me how many who do claim Christianity have an anemic understanding of how Jesus transforms our understanding of Old Testament law.

If you do believe that the Bible is God's authoritative Word for us today, here's a condensed explanation of the relationship between Old Testament law and our new covenant in Jesus. Jesus fulfilled (not abolished according to Jesus' own words) the law. It's particularly easy to understand how Jesus fulfilled the Old Testament sacrificial and ceremonial laws. These pointed to His coming sacrifice, and when He was actually sacrificed on the cross, the need for those laws was completed. We no longer, for instance, need to sacrifice a goat for the purification of our sins because Jesus was the final perfect sacrifice. The laws over the purification of sins have been fulfilled, because we have been purified once for all.

The New Testament also gives us long instruction, particularly in Acts, that we are no longer under the Old Testament dietary laws. So have at your shellfish and reject someone else's projection of hypocrisy on you in your application of Old Testament law. The Bible is the best commentary on itself, and it teaches us in a straightforward way that we are no longer under the dietary laws of the Old Testament. But what do we do with other laws? We naturally keep some because they still make complete sense for today. Put a bannister around your roof so no one falls over the side. God was the first to say this, but now our insurance companies make sure we do it on our raised decks and porches no matter what our convictions are about the Old Testament law for today.

What do we do then with the moral laws, particularly around sexual ethics? This is where John 8 is so helpful. There, Jesus interacts with the woman caught in adultery. She is thrown at Jesus' feet to be stoned consistent with the sexual laws of the Old Testament that include prohibition of gay sex. We see two things in this interaction. First, Jesus clearly removes the condemnation from the woman. He silences her accusers, and even more importantly says, “Neither do I condemn you.” He was GOD, and He alone had the right to pronounce judgement on her. Not only did He not condemn her, in just a short time, He personally paid the penalty of death that the Law pronounced over her for her sin of adultery. Note that, second, Jesus tells her to go and “sin no more.” Jesus both removed the condemnation from her while affirming the sexual ethic God declared in the law. That sexual ethic included not having sex with someone else's husband or anyone not your own spouse. It also included not having sex with someone of the same gender.

The New Testament goes on to repeat a good portion of the Old Testament moral code. Don't lie, don't murder, don't steal, don't have sex outside of marriage, don't have sex with the same gender, don't get drunk, etc. The Old Testament pronouncements of condemnation for such things are fulfilled in Christ. And we are clearly freed from practicing any of the sacrificial law and dietary restrictions. Yet Jesus and the Apostles affirmed the continued value of the sexual ethics presented in the Old Testament Law and repeatedly discipled believers to pursue sexual faithfulness in the context of traditional marriage.

The Way Forward 

What is the way forward then? There is the way forward for those who are not in the Church, the way forward for those who are in the Church, and the way forward for us as we interact with each other. I'm not a fan of politically legislating morality that does not directly affect another. As one friend said, “If you don't believe in gay marriage, then don't get gay married.” I've sat under one too many fundamentalist Christian dictators in my church and school settings to trust them to set my government policies. Our United States government was set up to protect us from religious dictators, and I am thankful for it.

My main concern is that Christians who hold convictions against gay marriage will be pressured, even forced, to participate in something or lose their business or ministry. But as a believer, I don't think that's necessarily the end of the world. In fact, when I think of fellow believers enduring much worse in other countries because they simply claim Christ, I am humbled. You may feel different about the possibility of future persecution, but that's my current feeling.

Personally, I'm burdened about a different aspect of the entire discussion around sexual identity and the Church. I am burdened that Christians have played into and supported male/female stereotypes every bit as much as Hollywood. We have for years presented an anemic, stereotypical version of manhood and womanhood in evangelical churches. But there is more to manhood than attraction to women and more to womanhood than attraction to men.

In the last decade in particular, the conservative American Church has pounded on the importance of traditional marriage. To many evangelical leaders, the answer to sinful hot sex outside of marriage was righteous hot sex inside marriage. If I didn't know better, by listening to some leaders I would think sex is the ultimate end all of the Christian experience, the great gift of God through marriage to which all of us should aspire. As I pointed out in my review of Real Marriage, the most vocal leaders of the last decade didn't seem to have a paradigm for a long term life of celibacy. Mark Driscoll joked regularly of his disdain for the celibate priests of his youth. Their lifestyle caused him to walk away from the Catholic church. All good and well if you are both attracted to the opposite sex and find someone in the faith of the opposite sex who is equally attracted to you. But even in the most healthy Christian marriages, there will be seasons of celibacy.

What do you do when your ministry focuses on extoling the value of hot sex in marriage and you suddenly lose your ability to participate in such hot sex in righteous ways? What do you do when you realize you are attracted to the same sex but you are convicted from Scripture that you cannot practice gay sex? Well, you join the party, because there has ALWAYS been a large percentage of the orthodox Church that has for one reason or another led a celibate life. And everyone one of them, male or female, single, widowed, disabled, or celibate by choice, equally reflect the image of God through their gender. Male and female, He created them. In His image. And the purpose of two genders reflecting the fullness of His character extends well past attraction between the genders.

Our church invited a panel of members to discuss this with our congregation. One was an elder who had participated in a gay lifestyle in Seattle before meeting his wife. One was a heterosexual single woman in her forties who had never been married. The other was a gay single guy who was choosing celibacy. My single female friend said that if someone had told her years ago she would be single into her forties, she would have said, “Shoot me now!” Yet, she testified of a full and vibrant life, filled with community and ministry opportunity. She is a happy, peace-filled woman. Celibacy had its problems for sure, but it wasn't a lifetime sentence to a lesser life. She is every bit a woman created in the image of God living out her likeness in Him.

I hope something in these thoughts is helpful to readers. I hope most of all that if you love someone facing their attraction to their own gender head on, that you can offer them hope for a satisfying, albeit sacrificial, life. If you are experiencing SSA right now and feel despair, I would love to hug you and tell you strongly that God has a good plan for your life. And that God really can fill your life with family and friends even if you choose celibacy. There are many inspiring folks who have gone on before you, and you will inspire others by your faithfulness as well. As I said, some of my greatest inspiration to persevere in the faith despite my own suffering (which has nothing to do with SSA) are my friends who have persevered in the faith with theirs. They are a great “cloud of witnesses.”

I recommend Wesley Hill's Washed and Waiting and Spiritual Friendship if you want to read more on this topic.