Watching Christians fight over LGBTQ relations has become entertaining sport for much of North American media. Because the average N American thinks about sex as a form of self-expression, such fighting appears incoherent. When churches start exhibiting vitriol, and publicly withdrawing their support/care to lesbian or gay people (or worse starving children), it appears absurdly contradictory. All this makes Christianity quite the spectacle for people watching from outside. It makes Christianity into an interesting parody, a joke for the Tonight Show, for people who otherwise find Christianity irrelevant.
Painfully, we (Christians) have all been reminded of this dynamic with the World Vision fiasco of the last seven days.
And yet we keep doing it.
We cannot help ourselves.
This is because Christians keep acting like we live in Christendom, even though Christendom is passing away. Churches have less and less influence in society, yet we keeping acting like we do. So when we try to exercise power people resent it. And less and less people understand what we’re saying because the common history and language it takes to understand what we’re saying isn’t there any more. This is especially true when it comes to sexual issues. Add to this that Christianity is split between factions, another sign Christendom (unified cultural Christianity) is fading. So now, we have honest disagreements but for some reason we feel the need to go public with them (because we think people still care). Our family feuds go public and as any family knows, there’s a lot going on in our families that should not be broadcast to everyone because not everyone will get it.
World Vision’s public fiasco over the hiring of Same Sex married couples is another case in point of this whole dynamic. This large parachurch organization, created when protestant evangelicalism ruled large populations of United States and Canada, announces publicly that it will now hire same sex married people. The president along with some officers decide it as a human relations policy change for the whole organization. In the old days (of Christendom), such a decision would be respected by all the underlings. But this consensus no longer exists. And yet Christendom habits die slowly. The ensuing result is all too predictable.
The conservative churches decry it as unbiblical and heresy. The progressive evangelicals decry the conservatives as aweful, outrageous and heartless people. It is all so predictable. The repetitive infighting between the conservative Southern Baptist/Neo-Reformed representative voices and the progressive (sorta) evangelicals (most notably Rachel Held Evans and a whole cadre of progessive voices) has become good entertainment creating huge internet traffic to various sites. Notice however, the actual issue of LGBTQ sexuality never gets discerned, never actually gets talked about. “LGBTQ” in essence becomes an ideology we use to rally against the other side, no matter what side we’re talking about. The end result is both sides do at least feel better about themselves. “We’ve done something!” But in reality, no, we’ve really done nothing.
Christians Should Discern LGBTQ Issues in Local Communities Not Through Public Policy Statements.
Yesterday on twitter/facebook I wrote the following words:
Can we agree? @WorldVisionUSA is not a church or the church? It’s a social service agency representing variant expressions of Christianity.
My point was twofold:
1.) World Vision is not a local church. It is a large organization that really acts like a public service corporation. It is alot like a large university that once had a church behind it but now has lost that direct affiliation. It now is beholden to a huge donor base for its continued existence. It should act like that. If it makes a public statement that statement should be made for the sake of its ‘business interests.” If this is true, then in my opinion, World Vision should have very limited statements about the moral behavior of its employees.
2. The issue of LGBTQ sexual relations/marriage should be and can only be worked out locally on the ground in local communities of mission and sanctification. World Vision is not such a church so it should stay out of discerning these issues.
Once extracted out of the local churches, LGBTQ inevitably becomes a concept, an object, an ideological football being thrown in the air that we now fight over for political tactics. But the resulting discussions/debates have little to do with the real life concerns and issues of sexuality in everyday life. The actual concerns of the health, welfare, sexual development, sexual lives of people, no matter how oriented, are completely avoided, and definitely not discerned. Take a look at all the words written, there is little actual sexual stuff talked about. It can’t be discerned for real in public. Therefore, the church needs to quit making public pronouncements about LGBTQ people. It should instead open spaces for the practice of being the church under His reign where these things can actually be discerned with real people going through real sexual struggles and concerns. (Churches should also avoid making grandiose public statements on the issue. We are afterall not living in Christendom)
Sanctification is part of the gospel. How it happens is in local communities of sanctification through practicing ‘presence,’ the gifts of the Spirit, confession, prayer, mutual submission to God’s voice. Apart from this there is no real discernment under His reign. This too cannot happen in public. The church, by definition, is the local place for such life! (I realize most people have not experienced this kind of church. This is obvious by the way people on my fb page could not understand why I would say World Vision is not the church). These local spaces are where we should be discerning this issue, not in public pronouncements by large organizations. (To me, these pronouncements come off as pontificating to an audience that doesn’t exist any more.)
I have expressed these convictions before. For me, the case of World Vision has only convinced me more. What say you?
(If people are interested in this kind of church, may I interest you in a copy of Prodigal Christianity – especially chapter 7,8)