More on Long, Hard Obedience

I’m going to talk in this article about an author who is gay and is a Christian and how his writing has encouraged me in long, hard obedience. But I have learned through previous articles that when I refer to gay Christians or Christians chronically experiencing same sex attraction, I am begging for critique.

Here are the primary critiques, and I want to address them head on.

“Why are you identifying someone as gay instead of simply in Christ?”

and

“There is no such thing as a gay Christian.”

Well, actually, there is. Using gay as an adjective does not denote overarching identity. It’s a descriptor (which is what an adjective is) for the purposes of delineating between sub categories of who or what you are talking about. There are black Christians, African Christians, lying Christians, female Christians, adulterous Christians, older Christians, disabled Christians, and so forth with much overlap between descriptors. Using a descriptor doesn’t mean a Christian finds their primary Christian identity in being African, older, the sin of lying, etc. It’s just a descriptor. They are a Christian who is from Africa. They are a Christian who lied in the past and maybe even 5 minutes ago. It makes me sad that people are so suspicious of this type of discussion that they seem to throw basic logic and good faith out the window the moment gays or same-sex attraction are mentioned in terms of Christians.

Furthermore, there are gay Christians who are celibate and sexually pure, and there are gay Christians who are not celibate and are sexually immoral. Gay is used in such situations usually to refer to the fact that they consistently experience attraction to their same sex as heterosexuals consistently are attracted only to the opposite sex.  And the temptation to sin IS NOT SIN.  Jesus was tempted in all points like us, maybe even with same sex attraction.  But the Bible says explicitly that He was both tempted and without sin.  I am disturbed that many evangelicals don’t seem to have a category for this when it comes to homosexuality.

Just as there are sexually immoral gay Christians, there are sexually immoral straight Christians. In Christ, we are freed from bondage to sexual sin, either gay or straight, and equipped to obey God’s sexual ethics. But we deny many facets of the gospel when we infer that any sexual sin means someone isn’t a Christian. Some Christians, straight and gay, are sexually immoral! I hope it does not characterize their life, but many regularly fight temptation and a good number sin when tempted. But also a lot of Christians, straight or gay, are sexually pure. We miss basic tenets of the gospel if we claim that any sexual immorality requires us to forfeit naming ourselves a believer.

Ok then. Now that we are either on the same page or you have written me off altogether as heretical, here is the substance of this post, and it is VERY IMPORTANT in my opinion.

Wesley Hill, author of Washed and Waiting and Spiritual Friendship, wrote an article that strongly resonated with me this week.  I hope you will check it out.

I read Washed and Waiting a few years ago and wrote a review on it.  It was my favorite book of 2013. Though I’ve never struggled with same-sex attraction, I resonated deeply with Wesley’s thoughts on persevering for the long haul in hard situations. And his new blog post ponders similar questions. Can we really call God good when He allows certain people to experience a long loneliness and unrelentingly hard circumstances? Yes, yes we can. But the way MANY of us want to deal with this question is by creatively thinking how to relieve the burden. We hate the idea that Wesley presents of an attraction to the same sex that isn’t relieved despite relentless Christian prayers and Bible study. Wesley must be doing something wrong, we think. We want to believe that one day he will meet the right woman, sparking a natural desire that will replace an unnatural one. Yet, even for those who do enter marriage with the right person, such unnatural sexual desire for the wrong sex often remains.  And stories of long, unrelieved temptations are stories of trials.

We hate those stories of others because we don’t want to consider them for themselves.

Many can’t comprehend Job’s story, or Ruth’s or Joseph’s, without the resolution at the end. They can only handle reading about them because they know the resolution. For many of us, contemplating the long years of unknown resolution for each of them is beyond our ability. Unless we are already there.

I resonate with Wesley’s words because I am there. I have struggles in my life, unreconciled relationships and unfulfilled longings, that are probably not going to resolve in this lifetime. For a long time, I had a string of things to try to fix it. Prayer, Bible study, advice from pastors and counselors. There was a list of things to work through and try. There was hope for earthly resolution. But there came a point where the last options were exhausted. Resolution through any of them would have taken a miracle. But while God did show up again and again with sustenance for the journey, He did not show up with that miraculous resolution I longed for. Once I had finally exhausted the last option that pastors and counselors had suggested, I remember sitting on the floor in my family room, numb with no tears left to flow. I was out of things to try, realizing how much I had hoped that there would be some way to resolve these things. No more words to pray for change in this life. No more earthly hopes to sustain me.  Many of you have sat similarly, numb and exhausted of tears, as the reality of your situation set in.

Was God still good?

The long unresolved issues in our lives only really start to teach us of the deep character of God when our options for resolving them are exhausted. The last option of chemotherapy doesn’t work. The divorce decree is stamped with finality by the judge. The heart beat line on the monitor goes flat and stays that way. The casket lowers in the grave. The doctor says with finality, “This is as far as you will recover.” The loved one changes their phone number, and you have no idea how to ever contact them again.

The verdict is terminal, not necessarily in terms of a sickness of which you will die, but in the fact that you will carry this burden for the rest of your days on earth. Wesley uses J. R. R. Tolkien’s language of fighting “a long defeat” and Dorothy Day’s language of “a long loneliness.” Perhaps most important is the language of the author of Hebrews. Because Wesley, Tolkien, or Day aren’t articulating a new concept but a very old, very Biblical one.

     8 By faith Abraham, when called to go to a place he would later receive as his inheritance, obeyed and went, even though he did not know where he was going. 9 By faith he made his home in the promised land like a stranger in a foreign country; he lived in tents, as did Isaac and Jacob, who were heirs with him of the same promise. 10 For he was looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God. 11 …

13 All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance, admitting that they were foreigners and strangers on earth. …

32 And what more shall I say? I do not have time to tell about Gideon, Barak, Samson and Jephthah, about David and Samuel and the prophets, 33 who through faith conquered kingdoms, administered justice, and gained what was promised; who shut the mouths of lions, 34 quenched the fury of the flames, and escaped the edge of the sword; whose weakness was turned to strength; and who became powerful in battle and routed foreign armies. 35 Women received back their dead, raised to life again. There were others who were tortured, refusing to be released so that they might gain an even better resurrection. 36 Some faced jeers and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. 37 They were put to death by stoning; they were sawed in two; they were killed by the sword. They went about in sheepskins and goatskins, destitute, persecuted and mistreated— 38 the world was not worthy of them. They wandered in deserts and mountains, living in caves and in holes in the ground.

39 These were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised, 40 since God had planned something better for us so that only together with us would they be made perfect.

Do you see how the writer here speaks of both those who saw earthly resolution and those who didn’t? Those who experienced physical victories and those who were martyred as prisoners? Whether they saw temporary earthly resolution or not, “none of them received what had been promised.” We commend them because they persevered in faith, not sight. When they DID NOT SEE THE PURPOSE, they believed there still was a point to their suffering and value to their perseverance.

While the author of Hebrews positively encourages us to persevere, Paul in I Corinthians 10 warns us soberly of the hardships when we don’t. In verse 9-10, he says, “Let us not test Christ as some of them did and were destroyed by snakes. Nor should we complain as some of them did, and were killed by the destroyer.” Paul is referring back to Numbers 21, where the people grumble and complain against God and Moses. “Why have you led us from Egypt?” “We detest this wretched food!” But such complaining defeated the people. We think of them as offending God, but they were also hamstringing themselves from persevering in their struggle, from overcoming with joy. My pastor in Seattle preached a life giving message on Paul’s similar words in Philippians 2:14 to put off grumbling or complaining. That warning isn’t Paul or God being overly strict or trying to limit our voice of lament or suffering. But grumbling and complaining, which is lament with blame and suffering with bitterness, will absolutely destroy you. It erodes your ability to endure. It’s like drinking coffee or alcohol while trying to stay hydrated on a marathon. Not only does it not help you endure, it hinders you. And when you are under that much pressure in that hard of a situation, a margarita might temporarily taste good, but it will ultimately make the next mile ten times harder than the water you needed.

The final words of Hebrews 11 are beautiful and sustaining. God had planned something better for those persevering believers and us. And we will all finally realize this thing together, united with Christ in the New Creation. Persevere in your long, hard journey, dear friend. You long for something better, and it is unfulfilled on this earth. But your longing is not the problem. You are right to long for it, and it will be righteously fulfilled in eternity as your good God receives you with affirmation for your faithfulness. Then too you will realize that He was holding you tightly the whole time so that you could not fall away. He has not left you as an orphan to walk this alone. May this thought sustain you in your long loneliness as it has me.

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Complementarian Issues of Nomenclature and Doctrine

1) Nomenclature

To quote Shakespeare, “What’s in a name?” Many evangelicals claim the name complementarian. I have myself identified that way since the time I first became aware of the term about fifteen or so years ago. For many who identify as complementarian, they use it simply to mean that they are not egalitarian. They believe that Paul’s instructions to husbands and wives in Ephesians 5 and on male-only elders in I Timothy 3 transcend time or culture and remain relevant for today. However, I have come to realize that the term complementarian was coined by a group of people with a very specific agenda related to evangelical feminism. The outworking of some of their agenda has been seen in the recent debate on the Eternal Submission of the Son. I personally have some big differences with those who founded the conservative complementarian movement and would love for there to be a different word to identify non-egalitarians.

Except that I believe in complementary genders in the image of God.

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The Gay Gospel and Hope for Hard Things

As I watched the gay pride festivities over social media and my Facebook stream, I thought (as I have a thousand times before) the pressure on gay, Bible-believing Christians to go against their conscience and write off God’s sexual ethics as harmful. Many Christians have changed their views about the Bible’s teaching on homosexual sex. The ones that I can most closely identify with are those who believe that the New Testament word Paul uses against homosexual sex is referring to pedophilia. I disagree with that interpretation, but I appreciate that it stays engaged with the text of Scripture. But if that’s the case and Paul was condemning pedophilia, there is still a larger theme in Scripture that can’t be written off without writing off the entire Bible—that promiscuity in general, heterosexual or homosexual, is anathema to God. He is a God of faithfulness, and He created His children to be faithful in their relationships as well. In that sense, I think Christians misapplied their moral outrage to the gay marriage debate. Of all the things that downgrade society, gay fidelity doesn’t seem to be it (spoken by someone who lived for years in a community full of faithful gay couples raising respectful, responsible children). Heterosexual infidelity seems a way bigger issue in harming larger society than gay fidelity. Seems is a gentle word for that – I should say that I know many, many people harmed by both gay and straight infidelity. I wish our Christian culture had harped on all forms of infidelity with the same vigor they did against gay marriage.

But what is a gay person to do if they believe, as I do, that Scripture can be taken at face value and that the church hasn’t misread or mistranslated the Bible around the issue of gay sex for the last two thousand years? In a word, they are to endure. But here too, our evangelical church hasn’t been fair to gay Christians. We ask them to endure when we look away from heterosexuals who don’t. We ask them to endure when our theology of general perseverance in suffering is weak and anemic. The prosperity gospel is alive and well in the evangelical church. And it forces evangelicals’ hand around the issue of gay Christianity. Of course instructions against gay sex are archaic if the end goal of the gospel is to make us happy and fulfilled by earthly standards. I’ve said it often that this type of thinking has no room for Christian martyrs. It has no room for even the Apostles or early Church.

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The Eternal Subordination of the Son (and Women)

There is a debate right now over the implications of a teaching called the Eternal Subordination of the Son (ESS), which explores the intra-Trinatarian relationship between God the Son to God the Father. Here are two summary articles that will bring you up to speed if you are unfamiliar with this discussion and would like to learn more.

Opponents of ESS like Carl Trueman and Liam Goligher believe that ESS represents a departure from long-held confessional statements of the Church. ESS advocates Wayne Grudem and Bruce Ware have responded by saying that they keep the confessions, and their theological beliefs are not being accurately represented. To complicate matters, the debate is actually more than one debate, as Andrew Wilson helpfully points out in the above article by identifying 10 essential questions underneath it. ESS adherents respond to these questions differently which even further impedes dialogue. It is not sufficient to say “ESS proponents” believe XYZ without designating which proponents and which beliefs.

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The Missing Head

In my post on Thomas Jefferson and headship (which a commenter rightly pointed out is NOT a word that the Bible uses), I briefly mentioned addressing in the future women operating in the kingdom with an absentee head (a word the Bible does use). I’ve been slow to address that, but it is certainly worth exploring. If you haven’t read the other article, this one won’t make much sense.

I know many men whom I respect as kephale cornerstones in their homes and churches. Christ is the chief cornerstone in the household of faith, but these men image Christ out in their little households within the Big Household. They are load bearing men, who leverage their privilege to provide support and direction to those in their care. I love and admire these men. I won’t walk up to them and say anything, because that would be weird. But I note it from afar, and I thank God for what they bring to the household of faith.

I also know a number of men who have walked away from their load-bearing responsibilities. Some call it mid-life crisis. I think many men, including Christian men, reach a fork in the road a few years into the load-bearing responsibility of family and ministry. The naivety has worn off, and the responsibility is hard. And they must choose. Do they lean into their head, Jesus Christ (I Cor. 11:3), for the strength to persevere under the weight of responsibility, or do they extricate themselves from the household altogether? Many men choose the latter.

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On Male Privilege

With a title referencing male privilege, this surely must be another article bashing evangelical men, right? Absolutely not! Though the mere mention of the term privilege causes some folks to bristle, I don’t want to talk about male privilege as something to bash men about but as something that is a gift to the entire Body of Christ, particularly the most vulnerable in it, when used as God intended.

First, is there such a thing as male privilege? It’s important to define privilege. When I use the word, I mean an advantage available to a certain group of people. The entire male gender does enjoy some advantages over the female gender when statistical averages are compared. It’s important to note that privilege refers to statistical averages more than individual comparisons. There will always be outliers, and any one individual man can easily find twenty women with more money or influence, even more physical strength. But averaged out by county, state, or nation, men consistently earn more than women working the same jobs. They average out as physically stronger than women. And in many nations, men still hold clear legal privilege over women by law. Averaged out through humanity, there is a clear advantage financially, physically, and often even legally to be being born a man.

Next, is privilege a bad thing? NO! It can be a very good thing. It’s not a thing to be ashamed of, UNLESS you only use your privilege to serve yourself. Always in Scripture, those privileged by race, gender, or financial ability are called to steward that privilege to serve those around them in need. I don’t write as a bitter old woman mad at all the men in my life who abused their privilege. In fact, quite the opposite. The majority of men in my life with God-given authority over me, particularly my dad and my pastors, have used their authority to bless me again and again. I have had really good examples of men in my life who leveraged their privilege for my benefit (even though they likely have never thought of it in those terms).

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Women Teaching Men – A Short Response

Mary Kassian wrote an article at Desiring God entitled Women Teaching Men — How Far Is Too Far? In it, she addresses recent discussions about what women can do in the church. She gives the guidelines she uses, some of which I found helpful. She also affirms that women asking this question are doing so from a heart of faithfulness to the Scripture, a point I appreciated as well.

May women ever teach from Scripture when men are in the audience? Should men even be reading this article? How far is too far?

It’s a question being asked by scores of women who want to be faithful to the Bible and want to exercise their spiritual gift of teaching in a way that honors God’s pattern of male headship in the church.

My problem with the article comes primarily from the analogy she uses to explore this question.

The discussion surrounding the boundary reminds me of another how-far-is-too-far issue: How physically affectionate should a couple be prior to marriage? Should they hold hands? Kiss? Kiss for five seconds, but not fifteen? Lip kiss but not French kiss? How far is too far?

Well, the Bible doesn’t exactly specify. Trying to put together a list of rules about permitted behaviors would be both misleading and ridiculous. But we’re not left without a rudder. The Bible does provide a clear boundary. Sexual intercourse prior to marriage crosses the line.

Here’s the major problem I have with this analogy. The Bible specifies a lot more about women teaching/prophesying/proclaiming in the church than it does with foreplay before marriage. What if the Bible told a story of Boaz and Ruth french kissing without judgement before they were betrothed? What if Paul affirmed in I Corinthians young men in the church holding hands with women not yet their wife? If the Bible affirmed some form of premarital foreplay, then the line for premarital foreplay would be a reasonable analogy for acceptable forms of women teaching men in the church. But the Bible doesn’t give examples of acceptable foreplay outside of marriage.

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