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Accepting without affirming

Brace yourself: it’s another book dealing with homosexuality in general and gay marriage in particular!

But this one is different: it’s written by a Vineyard pastor in the USA who regularly has to reach decisions about real gay, lesbian and transgender people who embrace anything but ‘that familiar pejorative, “the homosexual lifestyle”.’ We are not dealing here with just ‘an issue’, he reminds us, but with people—the objects of God’s love. The book is A Letter To My Congregation: An evangelical pastor’s path to embracing people who are gay, lesbian and transgender into the company of Jesus by Ken Wilson (David Crumm Media, 2014. ISBN: 978-1939880307).

Wilson explains to his large Michigan congregation why he feels he must welcome such people into the church—including looking without judgment on the long-term committed relationships in which some of them live.

He scrutinises every Bible passage usually quoted to condemn homosexuality in all its forms, and you owe it to him to examine his analysis carefully. He ends up rejecting the traditional either/or options: either exclusion from church life or affirmation of homosexual practice. Instead, seeing the issue as a ‘disputable matter’ of the kind Paul deals with in Romans 14-15, he opts for ‘acceptance’ as the appropriate scriptural attitude.

He draws an interesting parallel with church acceptance of divorced and remarried people. Not long ago these were universally excluded, but now most churches have made room for them. Are we seeing today a similar movement in the church’s attitude towards homosexual people? He believes we are—and should be.

He contends that this issue should not be allowed to divide the church. Members who share his stance should be willing to remain in active fellowship with those who don’t, and vice versa. But one thing’s for sure: the times they are a’changing, and this issue isn’t going to go away!

[Figure in brackets after the quotations are Kindle location numbers, not page numbers]

I seek to respond to the question facing pastors across the United States at this time: “Where do you draw the line on the gay issue?”… I’ve never been asked where I draw the line on greed, even though most of us use considerably more than our fair share of limited natural resources (which might be a fair definition of greed, especially if the poor in the developing world have anything to say about it). (180)

The mistakes you most regret are the ones that obscure the gospel and hurt the people you love, by saying in effect, “You do not belong,” to those for whom Christ died to provide a place of belonging. (224)

[Re the ‘Hate the sin, love the sinner’ approach]  As I began to meet more gay people in my pastoral role, to sit down with them face-to-face and grapple with the consequences of actually hating their sin, it just didn’t feel like a Jesus approach… I came to distrust the capacity of most people to hate the sin while loving the sinner. (466)

In the Bible there is a progression regarding the treatment of eunuchs, who would be the closest equivalent of transgender people today. This progression went from excluding them from temple worship (Deuteronomy 23:1), to the anticipation of their acceptance in the Hebrew prophets (Isaiah 56:4), to the recognition of a place in the kingdom of God for eunuchs in the ministry of Jesus (Matthew 19:12) and the inclusive practice of the early church in the book of Acts (Acts 8:27-39). (562)

All sex, when scrutinized, can be perceived as gross, especially to the non-participants. But the disgust response to homosexuality is heightened by the belief that all gay sex is as perverse as what those men in Sodom wanted to do to the visiting angels. (675)

How would I respond if one of my children or grandchildren came out as gay? What kind of church would I want for them? (689)

Many people are checking their assumptions about what various Scripture texts actually mean in light of new information available about the historical context in which they were written. (943)

While Leviticus 18 uses the term “abomination” to refer to a man lying with another man, the Hebrew term, toevah, translated “abomination” or “detestable,” is used to describe foods that may not be eaten (see Deuteronomy/Devarim 14:3, Orthodox Jewish Bible). In English, “abomination” implies severe condemnation reserved for the most egregious forms of immorality; this doesn’t seem to be consistent with the dietary uses of toevah. (1020)

[Re Romans 1]  We have three very significant and pervasive sexual practices that would have been well known to Paul’s audience and would shape their view of same-gender sexual practices: temple prostitution, pederasty, and the sexual services required of slaves. Yet, these same practices are virtually unknown to many modern readers. (1077)

Many traditional commentators are now reluctant to describe same-sex orientation with terms like “shameful lust,” or “vile affections” found in Romans. Yet, the same commentators insist on applying the prohibition of Romans to all same-sex relationships, including modern monogamous gay unions. (1155)

I concluded that there are real problems in applying the prohibitions of Leviticus 18, 20; Romans 1; 1 Corinthians 6; and 1 Timothy 1 to people in modern monogamous gay unions. (1271)

I’m now ready to sketch out the makings of a third way, a new approach to inclusion. It’s a way to fully include people who are gay, lesbian, and transgender in the life of the church, while recognizing that the church has not yet resolved the question of the morality of gay relationships. (1339)

Exclusion is the most severe punishment in the New Testament. It is equivalent to capital punishment in the Old Testament. We are speaking, after all, of exclusion from the community in which Christ is explicitly welcomed. To be in Christ is to be in community. (1350)

We are supposed to listen to the voice within us that says, “Gosh, this just doesn’t sound loving, even though it sounds correct!” (1437)

It is possible that the Bible prohibits all same-sex relationships that include sexual intimacy. Many take this view. In fact, it is so commonly assumed that many commentaries simply assert it without arguing carefully for it. (1771)

[Re the ‘disputable matters’ passage in Romans]  I am convinced that how the biblical prohibitions apply to monogamous gay relationships is indeed a disputable matter and that the teaching of Romans 14-15 should guide our response. (1786)

[Re the author’s church]  Christians in gay or lesbian partnerships committed to fidelity, are accepted for the sake of Christ. They are embraced, not excluded from full participation in the life of the community. Christians who believe such relationships to be sinful are accepted for the sake of Christ. They are embraced, not excluded, from full participation in the life of the community. (1859)

Parents who are conservative on the gay issue may think that exposure to respected gay adults will increase the likelihood that their children will choose to be gay themselves. There’s simply no evidence that this is the case… The simple fact is this: our children will not be nearly as focused on the gay issue as we are. This is true even of young people raised in conservative homes today. I’ve had so many of them tell me, “We are so over it. This is your issue to deal with, not ours.” If anything, younger people—including from conservative families—increasingly disaffiliate from the church over exclusionary policies. (1939)

[Re celibacy]  We have to be thoughtful about the burdens we insist that other people carry, especially when we don’t have to carry those same burdens ourselves… Just saying “celibacy is the solution” doesn’t make it so. People have to be able to do it. Paul, a huge proponent of celibacy, knew this. (2333)

For a long time, the answer…has been to assure people that God can heal their same-sex orientation. But that promise has been vastly overstated. (2388)

The church doesn’t go looking for raging controversies. They come up when historical circumstances change and the issue is forced. The question of whether Christians should go along with, support or even tolerate the institution of slavery didn’t arise until nearly eighteen centuries after the gospel was announced. It didn’t come up because it wasn’t a real possibility. People couldn’t imagine a world that worked without slavery. These things come up when the complex forces of history converge to bring them to our attention. Then we face them. (2439)

Jesus undermined plenty of gender norms in his day, as did Paul. And Paul, who only knew the Risen Lord, radically de-emphasized the significance of gender differences when we said, “In Christ there is no male nor female.” I’m not saying gender is no longer significant. I’m saying its significance seems to diminish as the kingdom of God nears. (2511)

Through expanded grounds for annulment or expanded grounds for divorce and remarriage, the church in her pastoral mode has made accommodations to the real challenges people face. Why shouldn’t this apply, by analogy, to monogamous gay partnerships for those who are not able to live in a heterosexual marriage or in a state of celibacy? (2522)

Everything around us screams, “This is a huge issue! This is the defining issue of our times!” But I think that’s only the phantom of fear speaking. There are much bigger moral issues than this one to attend to. Surely the kingdom of God would be better served if we were to invest our moral energy into discerning what we’re to do about greed, war-making, gossip, to name a few. (2734)

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