Saturday, August 30, 2014

Thinking about sex (again)

I’m spending this weekend talking and listening about sex.  With perhaps a few exceptions, most people I know don’t relish these conversations.  On the whole we haven’t been particularly well socialised to talk openly and publicly about sex and sexuality and those of us within the church are quite a few steps behind the rest of society in this regard.  As you can imagine, there’s been moments of discomfort, some awkward squirming at times and lots of laughter, because that’s a common way to deal with difficult topics.

The subject has come up as the key area of discussion for an annual Salvation Army conference called Thought Matters.  This year’s theme is ‘Honour God with your body: A Christian view of human sexuality’.  Whilst the matters under discussion haven’t been limited to same-sex relationships, it’s not surprising that these have had a fair bit of attention.  We’ve had some excellent presentations with, what I imagine has been, a massive effort in preparation to ensure a range of perspectives, a balanced viewpoint overall and great care not to offend anyone in the process.  Now that I say that, I realise perhaps why I’m not down as a speaker this year.

You see, I think there’s great danger in pretending to be balanced here.  This isn’t just about competing concepts.  We’re not dealing in abstractions.  It’s not like debating the nature of the Trinity or the number of angels that could fit on the head of a pin.  It is deeply  personal and there are real human casualties.  For me, that has to be our starting point.  To take a position of neutrality, while opponents work their way through theoretical arguments, is to side with the status quo and the status quo is hurting people.

Today we heard some truly compelling personal stories from people who have been hurt by their experience of church, and specifically by The Salvation Army.  I can’t imagine anyone in the room wasn’t touched in some way and a number were certainly brought to tears, myself included.  We can’t fix this by saying sorry if we don’t in fact stop hurting people right now.  We need to take responsibility for the messages that we put out that tell LGBT people that they are wrong, deviant, unacceptable to us and to God, because these messages are causing real and long-term damage.

Perhaps because of some of the tumultuous nature of the world right now, the notion that occurred to me as a way forward is that we need to institute an immediate ‘ceasefire’.  It may be that the solutions we are seeking are still some way off and, as much as we might want to hurry them along, there is no evidence that this is likely to happen.  So the least we can do is to stop the rate of casualties in the meantime.  As the party with the most power in this situation, The Salvation Army will have to make the most compromises in order for a ‘ceasefire’ to be effective.  I don’t have a clear or comprehensive idea about what this might look like but some possible features could include:
  • We stop making public statements about other people’s sexuality.  (Frankly, I think we’re kidding ourselves if we think we have any credibility in this area anyway)
  • We do make intentional and specific statements and efforts to welcome LGBT people into our corps unconditionally.
  • We work on the default assumption that LGBT people can participate as fully in corps ministries as anyone else, rather than figuring out reasons why they can’t.

None of this is to presuppose a permanent solution.  There will still be much discussion to be had and that discussion will need to prioritise the active participation of those most affected.  However, I can’t help but think that if we stop the processes and activities that are currently causing so much hurt and pain in people’s lives, then perhaps, just maybe the discussion might be a little more fruitful because its context is one of genuine love and grace rather than pain.

I know that for some people, even a temporary move like this will appear to be a grievous compromise of dearly held principles.  I’m honestly not sure what to say to those people.  I understand their viewpoint but I can’t with any integrity accept that the church can harm people in the way that it has been doing and not take responsibility for its own complicity in that.

It has to be more than a battle of ideas and we won’t be able to take any pleasure in what we perceive is the moral high ground, while LGBT people continue to feel self-hatred and loathing to the degree that they do, and while they continue to self-harm and suicide at the rates that currently exist.  The church isn’t the only cause of these things but followers of Jesus should never be counted amongst those who crucify others. 


Anonymous said...

God Bless you Jason; now if we could just get the rest of the S.A. on the same page. And oh how the world would grow to a happier place. :-)Enjoy the rest of your Conference; and I will look forward to reading your next installment. :-) Peace, Love, Hugs and Joy to You.

Anonymous said...

The thought of a ceasefire is attractive
It is made when the common desire to have peace shalom is greater than the urge to fight each other
It is a negotiated interim solution but it creates a space for understanding each other

We should not be fighting each other the cost of human lives is too great
We should listen to each other not dictate
We should love each other with a true agape love

I support this idea

Anonymous said...

I think that what you say is very true. We exclude too many people from the church. I remember as a child going to Salvation Army services and it was standing room only. now I go on special occasions only and the majority of seats are empty. As a gay man I don't feel that I am included, even though I still want that relationship with god. I've read the bible and I see many passages specifically saying don't be promiscuous, don't be a theif, don't kill. I read passages that can be interpreted as anti gay, but then there are passages that are anti straight. God would not let us be homosexual if he didn't have a plan for us. Think population control to save the earths resources.

Anonymous said...

A very complex issue. Will the Salvation Army then be saying that homosexual practice is not sinful? How does that stack up against the doctrine "We believe the scriptures of the Old and New Testament are ....."? If we say it is sinful, what about the doctrine of "... continuance in a state of salvation depends on continuous obedience in Christ"?. There are doctinal issues at the base of this topic that go to the very heart of what draws us together theologically that I don't think can be ignored.

JDK said...

Thanks for all the comments above. Just a brief response to the last: I guess what I'm proposing is that we craft a pastorally informed approach while we continue to work through the theological details. Does this mean that we might be accepting sin? Perhaps, but maybe in no greater way than the multitudes of sins and sinners that currently inhabit our churches. One of the papers from the conference this weekend included this quote from Biblical scholar, Dr Dale Martin: "Any interpretation of Scripture that hurts people, oppresses people, or destroys people cannot be the right interpretation, no matter how traditional, historical, or exegetically respectable. There can be no debate about the fact that the church's stand on homosexuality has caused oppression, loneliness, self-hatred, violence, sickness and suicide for millions of people."

Anonymous said...

Jason -- so very well said . . .
"As the party with the most power in this situation, The Salvation Army will have to make the most compromises in order for a ‘ceasefire’ to be effective."

Theologically, it's "Love God. Love your neighbor. It's that simple."

(Simple, but not easy.)

THANKS for speaking up -- please, keep posting.

Anonymous said...

That was one of my favourite quotes of the whole weekend, Jase. My understanding of good theology goes something like this, The fulfilment of the law as shown by Jesus was through compassion and mercy, this is why when Jesus says he didn't come to abolish the law but to fulfil it he is being integral to who he is, God, who is love. The law, as the religious fanatics and Pharisees saw it, was fulfilled through judgment and punishment – hence why Jesus had such a beef with them and not the prostitutes and unclean that he so often hung out with. Hope that makes sense. Kelvin

Unknown said...

JDK, you mention "3. … work so LGBT people can participate fully…" I’m not sure: when you say "participate fully" is this GIVING or RECEIVING ministry?

On one side - receiving help from TSA is already unconditional.

On the other side - if the requirement to serve is "be without sin" no one would be allowed to participate fully in corps ministries.

The implication: as a thief I can give TSA ministry to others, while I have not repented of my stealing. This is hypocrisy and misleading. If I was born a thief, but stopped stealing when I repented once, but continue to steal now, that is wrong. Sure, born a thief - very difficult to change, but with Jesus, all things are possible. [I don't mean to be flippant – this needs more explanation.]

So - the issue of being a practicing thief, or a masturbator, or hating your brother – are these big enough issues to disqualify from serving? How is the LGBT lifestyle any different?

Sinning comes from sin in our sinful nature - the nature we were born with; sometimes displayed in public/private (internal-hidden or external-visual) but it’s still wrong.

It’s my understanding that someone who continues in a state of repentance on the journey of holiness - is a sinner saved by grace. For every Christian, our sinful nature has been crucified with Christ.

So when struggling with old habit of stealing (a sin you give up now you’ve accepted Christ) then there needs to be a level of success in this area before people will believe you have changed. (How long did it take for Paul to be accepted by the Christian church when he announced his repentance from killing Christians? 10 years?)

There needs to be a level of success in repentance from masturbation. There needs to be a continued desire to give up hating-your-brother. So repentance may be in place for a long time; long before others agree one is allowed to serve in ministry.

Jesus sets the standard, e.g. this passage in John ch 6:

51 "I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats this bread will live forever. This bread is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world.”

52 Then the Jews began to argue sharply among themselves, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?”

53 Jesus said to them, “Very truly I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. 54 Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise them up at the last day. 55 For my flesh is real food and my blood is real drink. 56 Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me, and I in them. 57 Just as the living Father sent me and I live because of the Father, so the one who feeds on me will live because of me. 58 This is the bread that came down from heaven. Your ancestors ate manna and died, but whoever feeds on this bread will live forever.” 59 He said this while teaching in the synagogue in Capernaum.

60 On hearing it, many of his disciples said, “This is a hard teaching. Who can accept it?”

61 Aware that his disciples were grumbling about this, Jesus said to them, “Does this offend you? 62 Then what if you see the Son of Man ascend to where he was before! 63 The Spirit gives life; the flesh counts for nothing. The words I have spoken to you—they are full of the Spirit and life. 64 Yet there are some of you who do not believe.” ….

66 From this time many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him.

My Conclusion
Start the holiness journey by accepting Jesus - all will see changes in your life (successful attempts at repentance) and will see the Spirit of Christ within you.

Before ANYONE can give ministry they must meet the standard: Holy Spirit within.

The Horse said...

Suppose you have been awaiting a reply from on this. Sex has always been an issue for the church From its early day where saint often had mistresses, where homosexual contact was normal to where it mean death. Times change, we change, im sure in the eyes of some here I am a sexual deviant follow a set of rules and life choices that God do not agrree with. But is that true, or is that the doctrine around scripture that has become the word of God.

Sex in itself is an act of love even in a random hookup. Its to be enjoyed and explored within the full glory of gods gift. But thoers have great pleasure in taking it away.

TO me personally, Im a broken person, my hear lies at providing please to others as well as myself. if that not enough then its hell I am going.

Im at peace with my god over who I am and none of the well doing do guiders can take that away.

The Horse said...

I left a couple of things out with my last reply, that I think should be said. Firstly LGBT community is strong, stronger than at any other point in our history. But as individuals we all bleed. We all feel the pain of hate. When one of us is cut we all bleed from the same wounds.

Recently my ex partner was actively discriminated against at his work place of 7 years. He wanted to quit, but I convinced him to fight the discrimination. Its been hard the Christian organisation at the center of this has no idea what they need to do.

I think that is what people fear the most. Its not me the human being, its not me the gay man, its me someone you have to treat as an equal that you have issues with.

I think you are right we need to stop lobbing the hand grenades, we need to step away from the battle front, and let both sides heal.

You talk about crying at some of the stories. What makes me cry is when I have a 13 or 14 year old boy using a library computer to get help because last night his parents found out he was gay and beat him up and dumped him in the street. He is a child he deserves better than that from everyone. I do my best and help with the contacts I have but we are not faceless we are real. The saddest bit of all of this, is there is not one Christian contact number or email address on our help sheets. That needs to change.

Iftekhar Ahmed said...

Glad to read your post :). It is very informative!

Christina said...

Very value able post, I read the whole story when I start reading it.

Bipasha said...

I appreciate your blog post, beautifully expressed and well written.

Anonymous said...

I wish people were talking about these issues a couple of decades ago. As a former Salvationist who was coming to terms with my sexuality I was essentially excluded and berated so I left. It was such a hard time both at church but also hard trying to find my way and a new life outside of all I ever knew as a Salvo Christian in exile. Although I left by choice I felt it was with my arm twisted behind my back. Even though time has past it's still hard to make sense of it all and s

cld said...

Just found your blog. Thank you for speaking out against one of the greatest injustices of our time. I am a Salvationist and I am an Officer and my stand can be summed up in something I heard another blogger say once. "If my gay friends are going to hell than I am going with them". Hurting the "least of these" is an unacceptable action for those who claim to be followers of Jesus. God's love and the fellowship of believers is for everyone; no exceptions apply.