Polarization is on full display in American society. At the national level, we see the Democratic and Republican parties increasingly unwilling to work with one another on legislation, as opposing the other party becomes more important and compromise becomes a dirty word. Even in our local churches, pandemic measures such as masks and vaccines have similarly created division. People have a tendency to attribute the worst motives of the those they disagree with, whether that’s claiming that opposition to abortion is really about a desire to control women, or that teaching about racism is intended to make people feel guilty for being white.
Even our views on the truth of basic facts can be affected by polarization, with a significant fraction of Republicans believing that the 2020 election was stolen from Donald Trump, while outside those circles the consensus is that Joe Biden legitimately won.
There has been much discussion on the causes of polarization, and in particular on the role of social media platforms in creating and exacerbating polarization. Feature documentaries such as The Social Dilemma have explored this topic. Some of the problems with polarization are clear to everyone involved. Without an ability to have reasonable dialog, we just end up yelling at each other instead of making forward progress. However, I think that Scripture sheds light on even deeper issues, especially in the hearts of Christian believers.
As Christians, we ought to recognize the dangers that come with polarization. We should take the time to examine its effects on our witness, our own thinking, and our own hearts. Fortunately, as I hope to describe here, Scripture also gives us the principles we need to respond to polarization. Its teaching is often difficult, but also points to a much needed new way forward. In this post, I will point out some biblical principles that govern how we are to interact with others, particularly those we disagree with. Then I will discuss some of the implications of those principles in how we interact with others.
One of the distinctives of the approach taken by Spiritual Friendship and others (including those typically referred to as “side B”) is a rejection of the ex-gay movement’s pursuit of change in sexual orientation. And indeed, even from the earliest days of Spiritual Friendship, we’ve warned about change in sexual orientation as often a false hope.
One of the most common objections to this viewpoint I see, especially in Reformed circles, is a claim that it is a denial of the doctrine of sanctification. In particular, they think we see “bondage to sin” as something from which there is no movement towards “freedom.”
Part of this argument comes from a belief that sexual attraction to someone of the same sex is itself sin, rather than mere temptation. Even between different members of the community of Spiritual Friendship contributors or the “side B” world, this is an area of disagreement. But I believe that we should expect sanctification whether or not we agree with this position, as we already should for heterosexual Christians. Christian sanctification involves our wills and desires approaching those ordained by Christ, however slowly and incompletely, as we practice obedience and as the Holy Spirit works inside of us.
Is this a contradiction? Wouldn’t sanctification in the area of sexual desire be a movement away from “same-sex attraction” or “being gay,” whichever language is used? Isn’t this orientation change, even if slow and incomplete?
No, it actually is not. One of the major problems in this discussion is that people are not taking the time to understand the experience of people with same-sex attraction, in order to understand how theological categories apply. In particular, I see differing understandings of phrases like “same-sex attraction” as well as what “orientation” and “sanctification” really are. And without this understanding, it cannot be clear what sanctification does look like for a person with same-sex attraction. The result can be unrealistic expectations on one end, or a lack of pursuit of real sanctification on the other.
In this post, I will describe some of the terminology and phenomena I am discussing. This will culminate in a discussion of what sanctification can and does look like. I will be primarily discussing things from my own personal perspective, but I hope it is helpful to those thinking through broader implications for others.
We recognize that this is a very stressful time for us as a country and the world community as a whole. During this time, we feel it is important to continue with research that is important for our families and loved ones as it helps us to become closer and understand each other better.
By participating in this research, you help us better understand the experiences of LGBTQ+ persons who at one time came out to a Christian parent(s), or you help us understand the experiences of Christian parents who had a loved one come out to them as LGBTQ+.
In the first study, the researchers are specifically investigating the quality of relationship with their parents before, during and after coming out.
If you decide to participate in this anonymous survey of LGBTQ+ persons who came out to a Christian parent(s), then please follow this link to the survey to review the informed consent form and then complete the survey, which should take about 20-30 minutes.
The second study we are conducting is for Christian parents who had a child come out to them as LGBTQ+. In this study, the researchers will specifically investigate the quality of relationship with their LGBTQ+ loved one before, during and after coming out.
If you decide to participate in this anonymous survey, then please follow this link to the survey to review the informed consent form and then complete the survey, which should take about 20-30 minutes.
Dr. Olya Zaporozhets and Dr. Mark Yarhouse (co-authors of Costly Obedience) are interested in learning about the path of reconciling sexual and religious identity conflicts. To aid in our understanding, we are developing and validating a new measure of Sexual and Religious Congruence as well as validating an existing measure of religiosity.
This is an anonymous study. Your identity will not be recorded or disclosed and your answers to questions will not be shared with others.
For the purposes of this study, we seek people who are both a “sexual minority” (people who experience same-sex attraction regardless of behavior or identity) and Christian for whom faith and spiritual values are important. To learn more about the study and to participate, please go to this link: https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/7YXFXCV
In a quickly-deleted tweet last June, a prominent Catholic priest responded to our nation’s annual season of LGBTQ celebrations by asking: “If we’re celebrating Pride this month, what sin are we celebrating next month?” On a superficial level, this was a very silly question; after all, if earnest critics desire to associate LGBTQ Pride celebrations with one of the seven deadly sins, surely lust would be the more appropriate candidate. But on a much deeper level, this sloppy critique betrayed a profound blindness to commonplace equivocation of what the term “pride” can signify. For although “pride” in one sense certainly corresponds to vice and sin, there are equally legitimate senses in which “pride” can correspond to nothing other than glory and a crowning virtue. Moreover, and for precisely the same reason, it follows that a certain form of pride is nothing less than the virtuous response to unjust oppression and discrimination. It seems worthwhile, therefore, to embark on an exploration of the philosophical and theological tradition surrounding these issues, in order to arrive at a better foundation for reflecting on modern “pride” movements in general, and LGBTQ Pride specifically. Continue reading →
Last Thursday, Catholic New York, the official newspaper of the Archdiocese of New York, published a notification that Fr. Donald Timone has (at long last) been removed from priestly ministry. He was suspended in December of last year, and the Archdiocesan Review Board only just determined that allegations that he sexually abused minors were credible and substantiated, though the diocese had paid for two six-figure settlements after abuse allegations in 2017.
The story obviously implicates Cardinal Dolan. Last December, the New York Times reported that even after the Archdiocese of New York had paid out the settlements for sexual abuse of teenage boys by Fr. Timone, Cardinal Dolan kept him in ministry, despite the clear requirements of the Dallas Charter [pdf], and the fact that these were particularly egregious allegations: one of Fr. Timone’s victims, Timothy Murphy, had committed suicide.
One of the most consistent criticisms of Spiritual Friendship by those associated with Courage has been our use of language, particularly the word “gay.” One of the earliest criticisms was Dan Mattson’s July, 2012 First Things article, “Why I Don’t Call Myself A Gay Christian.” This article launched Mattson’s career as one of the most visible spokesmen for Courage, until they parted ways in January.
The criticism which has frequently been directed our way, by Mattson and others who speak for Courage, is that by using the word “gay,” we were making our sexuality the defining aspect of our identity. We have explained that this is not our intent on numerous occasions (see below for further examples).
The time has come, however, to refine our use of the term homosexual. A much better term than “homosexual person” is the following: a person with same-sex attractions. The distinction is not merely academic. Instead of referring to “homosexual persons,” which implicitly makes homosexuality the defining quality of the people in question, we can put things in clearer perspective by referring to men and women with same-sex attraction. A person, after all, is more than a bundle of sexual inclinations, and our thinking about same-sex attraction (hereafter SSA) is clouded when we start to think of “homosexuals” as a separate kind of human being. “The human person, made in the image and likeness of God, can hardly be adequately described by a reductionist reference to his or her sexual orientation . . . every person has a fundamental identity: the creature of God and by grace, His child and heir to eternal life” (Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Letter on the Pastoral Care of Homosexual Persons, 1986, no. 16)
This criticism illustrates, I think, just how radical Courage’s view of language is, and how far it has departed from the language of the Church itself.
Among those who affirm gay relationships, I often hear the argument that LGBTQ people are “not broken,” and therefore are worthy of love. One high-profile example of this is the hashtag #BornPerfect, which is used to oppose attempts to change sexual orientation. From a secular perspective, this can make some sense. However, I also see the same argument being made by those who profess to be Christians. This involves a major theological mistake, which is much more basic than sexual ethics.
Instead, we should focus on the Gospel, what it says about humanity’s shared state of brokenness and sinfulness, and how God redeems that.
The “not broken” argument does get some things right: LGBTQ people are made in the image of God, loved by God, and should be loved by others. To say otherwise is a lie from the pit of Hell. But the way it gets there is fundamentally antithetical to orthodox Christianity on several levels.Continue reading →
In Christianity Today, Greg Johnson, the pastor of Memorial Presbyterian Church in St. Louis, shared his testimony of growing up gay, finding Jesus, and eventually becoming a Presbyterian pastor committed to upholding the unchanging Christian sexual ethic:
The gospel doesn’t erase this part of my story so much as it redeems it. My sexual orientation doesn’t define me. It’s not the most important or most interesting thing about me. It is the backdrop for that, the backdrop for the story of Jesus who rescued me.
You must be logged in to post a comment.