I know, I know. This blog series is long. Just be glad my colleagues talked me out of posting it as one long piece 🙂 Again, if you’re new: I’m responding, from a hopefully generously spacious posture, to a 58 minute evangelical sermon about homosexuality that I think covers a lot of the typical points made in these kinds of sermons. We’ve covered four theological propositions and now we’re on our second exhortation (with three more to go). But ….. rather than jumping in here …. feel free to begin at the beginning (because I hear, according to Julie Andrews, that that’s a very good place to start).
The preacher’s second exhortation states, “You (the same-sex attracted person) need to take captive the arguments and opinions of the culture.”
Now there are certainly ideas about sex and sexuality that diminish our worth and value as image-bearers of the Triune faithful God. Violence, betrayal, objectification, addiction, reductionism, and individualism have all cheapened the beautiful gift of intimacy and sexuality that God has given to human beings. These ideas have infiltrated the lives of more Christ-followers than I’m sure many pastors would like to admit. After-all, in our daily lives we are bombarded by sexualized marketing and media while our churches seem to be strangely void of candid, concrete, common sense conversations about sex that would help us to reimagine God’s good intentions. But this is a human dilemma regardless of your sexual orientation.
When I hear how the pastor has worded this exhortation, it seems to perpetuate a sense of “us and them” between the sexual majority and the sexual minority. The exhortation seems to imply, though I’d be the first to admit that I might be projecting somewhat, that there is nothing good to embrace about the reality of navigating life as a sexual person differently than the majority of people do. And I think this is just false. In looking at history, there is ample evidence of the brilliant and beautiful contributions in so many different disciplines that have been given by sexual minority persons. Alan Turing anyone? Are you listening to Handel’s Messiah this Christmas? Bingo. Do you have one of Nouwen‘s books on spirituality on your shelf? Checkmate.
It also seems to imply, though yet again, I might be projecting, that sexual minority experience = bad but sexual majority experience = good. The preacher might not have intended that bifurcation – but with the exhortation given specifically to same-sex attracted people (his language) and not to people generally, it seems to perpetuate some of these incredibly unhelpful divisions. (Note: I do think the preacher tries to counter-balance this with his final exhortation to family and friends which we’ll get to in our last post in the series.)
Another comment I would make about this exhortation is that it seems to assume a distinct separation between the sacred and the secular. The wording of the exhortation presumes a posture where the Christian is against culture – in fight mode. This is certainly a view that many Christians hold. We are to resist and war against the evil world we find ourselves in. The tradition in which I was shaped and formed takes a different approach. All of creation, including culture, belongs to God. And since the moment of the fall, God has been about the work of redeeming all that has been tainted by sin. As followers of Christ, we are invited to partner with God in this work of redemption. We have the opportunity to be a living witness to a way of being sexual persons that reflects the self-emptying love and faithfulness of our God. We have the opportunity to model alternatives to the shallow sexualization that is all around us. We are called to be culture-makers (thanks Andy Crouch). We get to live out the truth of our interconnectedness as human beings: If I diminish you, I diminish myself. (thank you Desmond Tutu) With this perspective, we are not at war with our unbelieving neighbours, but we are partners with them in seeking to embody life-giving ways of being that will serve the common good and bless the people and families we engage. Generous spaciousness encourages us to navigate a sexualized world in humility, with hospitality that is willing to listen to many diverse experiences of being human in the world, committed to mutuality with the expectation that we will encounter God in each other (and yes, even in our supposed unbelieving neighbours), and working towards justice where all people will have an equal opportunity to flourish. While this might sound simply relativistic, I think it is more representative of the reality that everything that is good and life-giving comes from the Father above. (James 1:17)
The language of “taking captive” seems to shrink the cultural experience open to the sexual minority person. Generous spaciousness recognizes that individuals need to be encouraged to explore, to wrestle, to reflect, to discern, to question, and to trust the leading of the Holy Spirit as they search Scripture and prayerfully seek to understand God’s direction for their decisions about relationship and family. People need to own their own faith for it to be sustainable in the storms and to be genuinely marked by grace. I imagine that when we meet the Lord face-to-face we will become painfully aware of just how much we missed the fullness of God’s character and intention. We will fall on our faces in reverent worship, acutely aware of how far we fell short. And yet, the Author and Perfecter of our faith will gently be the lifter of our heads and remind us that our righteousness is only found in Christ alone and that his mercy and grace is more than enough to swallow up our limitations, failures, and errors.
So while all followers of Christ do well to be reminded to be discerning and alert concerning trends, themes, and selfish traps that elevate self over God and others, such discernment comes in the reality of context, community, and cultivation of maturity in Christ. It ought not to be simply a blanket statement that assumes culture is dangerous (for same-sex attracted people?) and we need to live in a “batten down the hatches” defensive posture.