Friday, August 17, 2007

A Time for Clarity and Wisdom

by Tan Soo-Inn

The gay issue just won't go away. In fact it should be the issue du jour for many days to come with the election of a practising gay to the office of bishop in the U.S. What is at stake here? The answer is both simple and complex.

The simple answer, and one where the church must draw a line, is the issue of biblical authority. Evangelicals, of which I consider myself one, believe that the Bible properly interpreted is the supreme authority over the life and beliefs of the church. What the bible says, God says. In the words of J.I. Packer:

" Built into Christianity is the principle of authority. This is because Christianity is revealed religion. It claims that God our Creator has acted to make known his mind and will, and therefore his revelation has authority for our lives. Biblical religion is marked by certainty about beliefs and duties. The diffidence and indefiniteness of conviction which thinks of itself as becoming humility has no place or warrant in Scripture, where humility begins with taking God's word about things."

No amount of hermeneutical sleight of hand can change the fact that homosexual activity is outside the will of God. John Court summarizes the biblical material as follows:

"Homosexual practices do receive mention in both the Old and New Testaments, but such references are few. The conservative interpretation of passages such as Genesis 19:5-9; Leviticus 18:22; 20:13; Judges 19:22- 28; Romans 1:26-32; 1 Corinthians 6:9-10; and 1 Timothy 1:8-11 is that there is a clear condemnation of homosexual behaviour that goes beyond the commands to Israel and has binding significance for Christians today. This interpretation comes from setting such injunctions into the broader context of sexuality generally, especially the creation principle of male and female."

The nature of human sexuality is predicated on the very image of God (Genesis 21:27). And He has made human kind male and female. The ideal couple in the pre-fall Garden was male and female. Human sexuality is heterosexual. Any capitulation on this point is a jettisoning of the very foundation of our faith.

However, we would do well not to underestimate the power of the gay rights movement. In the U.S. in particular, the movement taps into the energy, momentum and memories of the civil-rights movement, a movement that led to the abolishment of the unequal treatment of Afro-Americans in America. It is one thing to ensure that homosexuals are not preyed upon and discriminated unfairly in a modern pluralistic society. It is quite another to say that homosexuality is an alternative form of normal human sexual behaviour.


What must also be borne in mind is that the debates that are raging from Singapore to Minneapolis are actually a mixed bag of issues, including:


1. How do you define homosexuality?

2. Does the bible permit openly practising gays to hold positions of church leadership?

3. How do we help Christians with strong homosexual urges be fully accepted in the community of believers and receive help to remain celibate?

4. How do we help homosexuals who are struggling to find the truth and to find healing to hear the gospel?

5. What is our answer to a militant gay movement that is pushing so hard for homosexuality to be accepted as an alternative life style?

6. How do we speak up in the public square for a biblical position on homosexuality in a modern pluralistic society?

7. How do we speak the truth in love?

These are just seven questions that need to be addressed in the present debate over homosexuality. I am sure there are more. So while the biblical position on homosexuality is simple, the various debates that are going on are not. And Christians are often not clear which of the above questions they are addressing.

I have seen heated debates between Christians, where one side was answering question 3 while the other side was answering question 5. Both sides were adamant about their positions without realizing they were talking past each other.

This is a tough time to be a Christian with homosexual tendencies fighting to remain true to the bible's demands for purity. When the church brings its heavy cannons to bear on the militant gay agenda, it is scary indeed. And runs the risk of hurting homosexual brothers and sisters struggling to be celibate, with friendly fire. (In the meantime, there will be gay groups, some "Christian" who will tell them that they are fully loved and accepted!)

One good thing about the present homosexuality controversy is that it seems to have shaken some Christians out of their theological lethargy. That is good and to be welcomed. But we must be very clear at all times which question we are addressing. And then we must ask God for wisdom as to what to do, what to say, and how to say it.

We must also remember that the present homosexual controversy is by no means the only battle that requires the prophetic voice of the church. Evil continues to manifest itself in many, many forms throughout the globe and in the church. And thousands continue to die daily without food. And without God.

It's a time for clarity and wisdom.

Your brother, Soo-Inn Tan

For more reflections on the issue:
No Room For Grace
This Is Not THAT
Comments On Brokeback Mountain
The Marriage of Charles and Philip
Truth, Love and Homosexuality

12 comments:

BK said...

Excellent!

Dave Chang said...

Amen... Somehow i feel the msian church doesnt have the luxury of an ambiguous, silent "five-year moratorium"

alwyn said...

Soo-Inn has summarised the issues very well.

Question: Which of the 7 questions are the most *timely* and *important* nowadays? Which do you think the gay person would feel is most salient/acute?

I think if we can narrow the focus somewhat, we can get to the heart of the very people we wish to minister to.

Not all questions are born equal.

The Hedonese said...

One pertinent question i hear from the local gay christian yahoogroup is "How do we counter the perception that ooyoung was influenced by the evil West?" :) Any takers?

Yuki said...

To share my answers:

1. How do you define homosexuality?
"As natural as heterosexuality."

2. Does the bible permit openly practising gays to hold positions of church leadership?
"The Bible said nothing, but if we cherry pick verses and combine it into an argument, then we can say NO. But that would be (well) out."

3. How do we help Christians with strong homosexual urges be fully accepted in the community of believers and receive help to remain celibate?
"The same way we handle a horny heterosexual... love, not lust."
"As for celibacy, may I not comment? Sorry."

4. How do we help homosexuals who are struggling to find the truth and to find healing to hear the gospel?
"Ask those who had been through it all, and found the truth. You can try this site: www.exgaywatch.com. It is the most neutral non Christian site available. Even gays and ex-gays got thrown out before for discent. Good site."

5. What is our answer to a militant gay movement that is pushing so hard for homosexuality to be accepted as an alternative life style?
"Love the human rights work. Hate the imposing objectives."

6. How do we speak up in the public square for a biblical position on homosexuality in a modern pluralistic society?
"We can only do that after this generation had passed and more understanding of the homosexual orientation is presented."

7. How do we speak the truth in love?
"Love unconditionally first. Then accept the person has he or she is. Never impose our own truths and values upon others. But tell them to test everything."

Jack Said said...

Some thoughts on this issue:

Homosexuality, like, cancer, or congenital physical deformaties is the judgment against sin. It is an indicment against ALL humanity and an infliction on the WHOLE of Creation, not just a gay person - see Roms 1 (the favourite passage of our holy crusaders-gay bashers), the three times "God gave them over" statements were the judgments against unrighteousness, idolatry and persistence atheism.

And just like cancer may plague a "good" person, or a "good" christian, anyone may suffer from such sexual perversion.

But then what do we do with those folks who suffer from this unfortunate effect of sin?

What do we do with cancer patients? Or someone born lame, or blind?

Of course I am NOT saying it's all the same, as with cancer, so it is with homosexual tendency.

But my point is that for those of us who do not believe a homosexual relationship was what intended by god, we must first recognize that, instead whacking judgment at the gay person, that such un-natural (i mean "not god-intended" with "un-natural") behaviour IS already a judgment. And not just on the person experiencing it, but on everyone of us. Hey, god is speaking to you and I, and all the passionate holy crusaders out there as much as he is speaking to the gay guys and gals.

We have to be clear about this. The ill effects of sin: sickness, corruption and ultimately death is a judgment spoken to every individuals, gay or straight. We have to listen as much as we wanted the gay guy to hear our hellfire stuff.

Our problem is we are too reactionary most of the time. Someone said that the church will loose credibility among non christians if we allow for the "gay-thing" to go ahead without making our stance clear. So we draw a line when the enemies drew near. And probably thats where our happy witch-hunting will take place. People easily become paranoid when they are reactionary.

As if the Church has always been held high by others until this gay pastor comes along and destroys our good impression in the eyes of the society.

Really, what has the Church done to those with strong homosexual desires? We have no alternatives most of the time. At least most of us do not have any alternatives, besides saying NO.

Can we sit down and talk about it seriously? Prayfully and through the manyfold creative and life-giving power of the Holy Spirit, explore and study and crack our heads (instead of cracking others') over this issue.

Before rev. ouyang came into the paper recently, i remember talking to a friend who was very very militant about speaking against homosexuality (anyway, i heard from someone who personally spoke with ouyang recently that this chap was also very militant in pushing his agenda...well, it takes two to tango).

Over and over again, she told me, "Jack, but you must agree with me that the bible is soooooo clear against homosexuality?"

The funny thing is, my friend cannot tell Paul from Peter. And probably Paul from Socrates. What's so clear about something one don't even know?

I think the reason why we are all so blur is coz we really didn't bother to get all the data right and do the difficult part of thinking and grappling the issue (not just on homosexuality but other issues as well). I am not saying we'll definitely have the answers if we do that, but I trust that our response will be radically different if we do.

I always think that to say yes or no is easier than to struggle over an issue. Becaues if we do, we may run the risk of coming out with a stance which is sometimes bordering compromise. And that's scary...do we dare to decide? Or again, we go back to the same old trick, "that's the problem, we want to decide for ourselves and disobey god's word".

Did god give us just this much space to decide and act on his good earth?

Guide us and give us the strength to be human beings. Oh, Thy will be done in earth as it is in heaven...and as Luther said, not because Thy will cannot be done if i didn't pray this, but that Thy will is done in and through us too. Amen

Jack

alwyn said...

now that's quite a new perspective, Jack (about homosexuality being a judgment on all of us)...if nothing else it forces us into greater solidarity both with the gay person and from which to do our theologising.

Yuki said...

"Really, what has the Church done to those with strong homosexual desires? We have no alternatives most of the time. At least most of us do not have any alternatives, besides saying NO."

There are alternatives (and please pardon me, it is not having 'strong homosexual desires' but having the homosexual orientation, we do not want to be accussed of having 'strong heterosexual desires' do we?) but this is a sticky issue.

To be as neutral as possible; on one hand the Bible is not clear about homosexuality because of the different time zones separating knowledge level by 2000 years.

But on the other hand, the Bible DID explicitly condemn adultery, which by itself is already a common Christian tradition, culture and principle.

So is it by fall of sin that homosexuals are destined not to be married? Even if we put Genesis into the equation, men and women are still biologically, chromosomnally, hormonally and psychologically defined, even when the curtains are pulled together, largely by the discovery of the Klinefelter and Turner Syndrome.

However, homosexuals are still distinctively between two of same sex attractions. I am thinking, would the Christian God be so unfair to inflict upon the homosexual community an orientation that they would be bound without marriage for the rest of their life?

Perhaps we should start examining what to do to make it a better place for not only homosexuals, but heterosexuals alike.

Dave said...

Alwyn, u may like to check out www.desiringGod.org for Piper's similar twist to romans chapter 1

:) Yuki, actually, at the time of the bible, homosexuality was widely known and practised by cultures like the Greeks. So the authors were not exactly 'dungu' about it..

Yuki said...

Actually Dave, my context was more like asking for your opinion, should we just allow homosexuals to get married and settle down? This way, it would avoid a similar promiscuity like heterosexuals... ?

(Come to think of it, it is difficult for anyone to keep a marriage in this age of MTV)

Dave said...

I guess at the rate our oil prices are skyrocketing, it's difficult not to take out the parang and rob nowadays! hehee... but since when has morality been determined by what's convenient? :)

As to ur question, that depends very much on what your presuppositions are...

If there is no god, then there wud not be a moral dilemma here. In the same way, if there is no moral lawgiver, there is also no moral obligation to be respectful or tolerant for a behavior that does not propagate our genes either.

But if there is God who created human sexuality as male or female, and homosexuality is not what He intended but a result of sin etc, then it follows tat homosexual marriages are not morally permissible. It's almost like how we don't condone someone marrying his own sister for the sake of avoiding promiscuity...

alwyn said...

Thanks for the note, Dave.