July 28, 2010 / David Fitch

Why Pre-Labeling A Church Community’s Stance on Same-Sex Relations is a Bad Idea: Mission and GLBTQ Relations #2

I’ve been building an argument here on this blog for a posture I call “welcoming and mutually transforming” (WMT) towards GLBTQ peoples among us. I suggest that this is the incarnational posture of mission as we engage any culture, but especially as we seek to embody the sexual redemption made possible in the person and work of Christ in the world. I said last post that such a community would be based on three commitments that reflect this embodied (incarnational) posture in the world.1.) We All Come Broken
2.) We Make No Pre-Set Public Statements
3.) We Embody Spiritual Disciplines that Nurture the Life in Christ for God’s Mission in the World.

This post I want to explore the Second commitment: We Make No Pre-Set Public Statements on What We are For or Against in Sexual Relations.

Here, I am asserting that as a community inhabiting a locale, we do not make any public statements concerning what we believe concerning sexual issues to people outside the community. Sexual redemption is witnessed to others through the telling of stories, humble listening and relationships. In post-Christendom cultures public statements on what we have come to believe concerning GLBTQ and any other sexual issue can only be misunderstood. Positive public statements towards GLBTQ relations (welcoming and affirming) only serve to niche the church (as a GLBTQ church). Negative public statements or public protests against GLBTQ issues only serve to be misunderstood and put the community over against those struggling with these issues. I recommend that a WMT community Make No Pre-Set Public Statements on What We are For or Against in Sexual Relations.

Of course, this is more than a policy recommendation. This is all about the incarnational missional disposition we take in a sexually broken world for the bringing in of the Kingdom. Here are three comments about this disposition

1.) There’s a difference between judging (condemning) someone and discerning alongside someone out of love for that person. To put a sign up, or announce our position against GLBTQ relations, or to somehow protest all GLBTQ issues in front of City Hall, in essence puts us in a judging position towards those we do not even know. This forecloses witness and the possibility for God’s work. I believe evangelicalism’s tendency to publicly judge and condemn on these issues forecloses the possibility for discerning alongside not only GLBTQ peoples, but the many who are struggling with sexual brokenness even inside our church communities.

1 Cor 5:12 makes the distinction between judging those in the community and those outside. Paul says we do not judge those outside the community, those we do not know. Yet Paul calls the church to “judge” those inside the community in the same passage. LET US THEREFORE QUIT JUDGING THOSE OUTSIDE THE COMMUNITY. I believe James 4:11,12 tells us not to speak evil or judge a brother inside the community. Here we are told to not take the Law under our own control, and judge our brother from a position as “judge.” The seeming contradiction between Paul and James here is solved when we realize that James’ mode is to encourage the posture of submission and humility to God.  James in speaking against the judgment out of a position of superiority. In other words, there is a difference between judgment – whose goal is to condemn – and discernment alongside someone in mutual submission to Christ  – whose goal is the restoration and redemption of one another out of love and humility (1 Cor 5:5). It is the latter position that we are called into as Christians. We cannot be in such a position when we have already pronounced condemning judgment. Jesus commands us towards this posture in Matt 7:1-5. The point of “take the log out of your own eye first” is that we approach one another out of the humility of our own sin. “Let the one without sin cast the first stone.” One of the biggest issues for evangelical mission among GLBTQ is the lack of this awareness of the log in our own eye. We come off judgmental. So let me say this – there is a delicate sense in which no judgment can be made against GLBTQ or any other sexual issues, until we have a redemptive sexual community that can humbly invite and listen and ask the GLBT to join us in repentance and renewal of all sexual desire. This is the essence of the position I am arguing for – Welcoming and Mutually Transforming. For these reasons I suggest no public statements about what we are for or against in terms of GLBTQ.

2.) Likewise, Pre-labeling One’s Church as “Welcoming and Affirming of GLBTQ” undercuts missional engagement as well. For we really have no way to know what that might mean? Are we in essence affirming all sexualities, which in essence means we are saying nothing about sexual redemption at all? Are we simply affirming sociologist Jodi OBrien’s recent statement on sexual relations – ”I support the fight for everyone to make choices regarding how they wish to author their own lives (in their sexuality) and the meaning they seek for themselves and those they wish to define as “family.”” If so, is there any possibility for incarnational transformation left in the area of sexuality? If a church community’s first allegiance is to Christ and the calling of one another and the world into following Him and His Kingdom, it is easy to see how these “welcoming and affirming” words – even if one took a pro-gay Christian stance – have no way to be defined. Instead, they serve only to “niche” the church. They in essence market the church and create an attractional dynamic that almost guarantees the loss of the transformational dynamic of the missional community.

Of course the same goes for those who wish to make public statements about “welcoming but not affirming.” Besides the obvious ways this communicates pre-judgment, there is simply no way we can communicate the positive Christian sexual vision, to those outside it. To prove my point, try to explain to someone outside the church why “celibacy” is part of the compelling Christian vision for sexuality. Of course, people inside evangelicalism can’t even get this. One of evangelicalism’s biggest problems is we have no compelling sexual vision which makes sense of celibacy as a fulfilling calling. We have little or no sexual ethic except the glorified desire of Hollywood lopped onto heterosexual monogamous marriage. We have no theology of desire formation. It is “lust,” and enjoy it, only while married to one person. We have no concept of the “ordering of desire.” This is why our witness is so vapid among the sexual brokenness of our day.  This is perhaps why we think saying “no” to GLBTQ is enough. Yet it isn’t enough. Saying “heterosexual is God’s norm” says next to nothing in the climes of post-Christendom. It does not define the sexuality Christians are called into.

Since the vision of Christian sexuality cannot be communicated outside the community in words only, since this kind of redeemed sexuality can only be offered with embodied witness, I again strongly suggest that WMT missional communities not make public gestures that pre-label the community sexually amidst the world of sexual brokenness.

3.) We hold our existing commitments humbly as witnesses to redemption not enforcers of a morality.
That we make no public pronouncements, does not deny we carry pre-existing  sexual commitments that are creation grounded, redemption filled, and desire reordering. Our community has not been brought into being ex-nihilo. We are part of a story 1000’s of years old. The wisdom in Scripture towards gay relations, pre-marital sex etc. should not be easily discarded because of science or other presumed modernist authorities. There are large parts of wisdom here which have little to do with whether Scripture actually prohibits pre-marital sex, gay sex. Protestants keep looking for Scriptural proof texts while we should be reading the depths and wisdom of the Fathers, the Pope etc… which reveal the profound meanings behind things that the world simply cannot understand (like no contraception, celibacy). It is part of being incarnational to participate in the historical development of Christ’s witness that has been given to us. We do not seek to escape history. I don’t see how we can be missional amidst the sexual brokenness of our day without a recognition that God has been working to redeem creation, and human sexuality in Christ for 2000 years.

Having said this, we must become communities that hold our commitments with a confidence sufficient to listen to those outside our commitments. We must listen and dialogue. We must so trust the Holy Spirit that Jesus is Lord that we can hear the depths of what is going on in the lives of GLBTQ peoples. Part of our problem as evangelicals is that we have been so insecure in our own sexual commitments and sexual lives that we live these commitments defensively.

Is it possible that, even while assuming the prohibition against Gay relations (which I assume), that we will discover some parts of gay sexuality that we can affirm? That there is much we can affirm about same sex friendship, never mind cross-gender friendships. Can we see understand the depths of the reasons why heterosexual relations have become so formed within gay relations, can we understand and affirm some of the qualities of love that GLBTQ peoples have searched for and found within gay relations? Can we listen? Can we search and uncover together. In the process learn about our own brokenness? All of this requires, the holding of our own commitments (those of us who are committed to the traditioned sexual ethic of Christian life) humbly, vulnerably, so as to listen. To me, such an engagement makes possible the Holy Spirit’s work in transforming us together out of submission to Scripture, mutual confession, and healing prayer.

In summary, for all of the reasons above, I am arguing that a Welcoming and Mutually Transforming Missional Community must avoid gestures that would pre-label the community’s stance of sexual relations in the neighborhood.
Is this playing games? talking out of both sides of mouth? Can there be any avoiding of pre-judgment?

My next post on the WMT community is on the Spiritual Disciplines of such a community.