Nathan Albert: “What is the Loving Thing to Do?”

Nathan Albert, The Marin Foundation

As a North Park Seminary student, I have spent the last ten months writing my thesis, which looks at the relationship between the Evangelical Covenant Church and homosexuality.  I have exegeted all the “clobber” passages, have read and reread the current documents the ECC has written about sexuality, and have read any book I can get my hands on the subject of faith and sexuality.  I also work for a non-profit that works to build bridges between the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender (LGBT) community and the Church.  I provide pastoral care for countless youth who are coming out, parents who have gay children, and churches that seek to dialogue about this controversial subject.  I live in the gay neighborhood of Chicago and long to show the beauty of Love and Grace to my countless gay friends who have given up on God.

For years, my views on homosexuality were conservative.  But now, after life has unfolded, after reading Scripture over and over, after consulting every commentary I can get my hands on, after years of studying and praying, and after befriending so many gays and lesbians, my views are changing.

I am reminded of the Ninevites, Gentiles, women, children, and eunuchs throughout the Bible.  All of them were folded into the flock.  Not by behavior modification but solely because of the grace of God.  And I think the Church became better when those who were ostracized were welcomed into the body.  She became better when outcasts were invited to be members.  The Body of Christ is better when all people are represented.

I am reminded that in book of Leviticus the lame, the poor, the blind and the disfigured could not approach God.  And yet in the Gospels you see Jesus, God in flesh, eating dinner with the lame, the poor, the blind and the disfigured.  Jesus overturned the rules.  He went against what was always done.  Jesus was scandalously inclusive.

I want to be inclusive because Jesus excluded no one.  I want to be inclusive because I desire that all people have the chance to know the Good News of Jesus Christ.  I want to be inclusive because I think it makes the Body of Christ better.  I would rather err on the side of being overly gracious, welcoming, and loving.  I think God could handle that mistake.

After all my research and experience, I continue to go back to one particular passage written by Dale B. Martin, Professor of Religious Studies at Yale University.  In a way, it haunts me and I am forced to ask the question he asks.  In his book Sex and the Single Savior he makes the following claim:

Any interpretation of Scripture that hurts people, oppresses people, or destroys people cannot be the right interpretation, no matter how traditional, historical, or exegetically responsible. 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. If the church wishes to continue with its traditional interpretation it must demonstrate, not just claim, that it is more loving to condemn homosexuality than to affirm homosexuals. Can the church show that same-sex loving relationships damage those involved in them? Can the church give compelling reasons to believe that it really would be better for all lesbian and gay Christians to live alone, without the joy of intimate touch, without hearing a lover’s voice when they go to sleep or awake? Is it really better for lesbian and gay teenagers to despise themselves and endlessly pray that their very personalities be reconstructed so that they may experience romance like their straight friends? Is it really more loving for the church to continue its worship of “heterosexual fulfillment” (a “nonbiblical” concept, by the way) while consigning thousands of its members to a life of either celibacy or endless psychological manipulations that masquerade as “healing?”

The burden of proof in the last twenty years has shifted. There are too many of us who are not sick, or inverted, or perverted, or even “effeminate,” but who just have a knack for falling in love with people of our own sex. When we have been damaged, it has not been due to our homosexuality but to others’ and our own denial of it. The burden of proof now is not on us, to show that we are not sick, but rather on those who insist that we would be better off going back into the closest. What will “build the double love of God and of our neighbor?”

I have tried to illustrate how all appeals to “what the Bible says” are ideological and problematic. But in the end, all appeals, whether to the Bible or anything else, must submit to the test of love. To people who say this is simplistic, I say, far from it. There are no easy answers. “Love” will not work as a foundation for ethics in a prescriptive or predictable fashion either- as can be seen by all the injustices, imperialisms, and violence committed in the name of love. But rather than expecting the answer to come from a particular method of reading the Bible, we at least push the discussion to where it ought to be: into the realm of debates about Christian love, rather than into either fundamentalism or modernist historicism.

“We ask the question that must be asked: “What is the loving thing to do?”

And so, I continue to ask myself that same question.  I think it is time the ECC starts asking that question too.

Nathan Albert is completing his MDiv at North Park Theological Seminary and works as the Director of Pastoral Care for The Marin Foundation in Chicago, IL.  Prior to seminary, Nathan worked as a professional actor and singer all over the country.  He is a member of New Community Covenant Church and blogs regularly at naytinalbert.blogspot.com. The view of this post represents the author’s thoughts and is not representative of the views of The Marin Foundation.

  • Byron Durham

    Great post, Nate. Acceptance of others based on a deep personal understanding and internalization of God’s grace towards us through His son Jesus Christ is a fundamentally loving act that embodies the power of the gospel. I find that often loving action often leads to a more loving heart, rather than the other way around.

    I think of James, Chapter 2.

  • Sam

    Great post Nathan! I too like the quote from Martin. Many churches across the spectrum find being affirming and inclusive most difficult.

    When Jesus throws a party, are we hoping to be invited? When we arrive and see who else Jesus invited do we plan to stay or say “He invited THOSE people!”, then turn around and leave?

  • I chuckled over “heterosexual fulfillment” as a non-Biblical concept. (Actually, “Biblical concept” is an interesting concept, in and of itself!) I want to be more like Jesus in welcoming all because of their creation in the image of God. I struggle with Jesus’ words which echo through time and call us all to live from a different center and choose different values and actions than our natural inclinations may prefer. These words challenge all of us, because Jesus, the Lord, is the only one who can adequately see whether something which seems good in the short term is truly good in the long term. I walk slowly, trying to walk with Jesus.

  • Polly McClellan

    My heart swells to read what I feel expressed so well! I am especially moved by, “I would rather err on the side of being overly gracious, welcoming, and loving. I think God could handle that mistake.” Thank you, Nathan.

    • Thanks Polly 🙂

    • Christin

      That line stuck with me too. Well stated.

  • One of God’s Women

    This is a wonderful article. As someone who has brushed up against this issue within the church, I long for some clearer understanding of what God hopes for in all this. I completely agree that acceptance and love should be at the top of the priority list, but I guess my questions take me to “what now”? In your opinion, is that where it ends? Just love and leave it? I like and agree your comment “I would rather err on the side of being overly gracious, welcoming, and loving. I think God could handle that mistake.”

    Over the past few years I’ve been trying (with all my might) to allow a shift in my own faith to take place from a fairly legalistic model to a place of openness to learn God’s bigger perspective (and not assume that I understand it!). So my previous “training” seems to continue to whisper the question, “but aren’t we supposed to discern dark from light and speak up against the dark?”. I worry about being too wishy washy (Luke warm…wasn’t that always the fear? Won’t He spit us out of his mouth?) and indecisive.

    I don’t know where these questions are leading me, but I’d love to hear some of your perspective if you have the time. I find the quote really compelling too. There’s something so good about simplifying things and just choosing love.

    • I would encourage grace and patience in your continue wrestling with these questions and topics. If a few years ago, I was forced to come to a particular theological decision, I might have done harm to a lot of my gay friends. Too often, I see Christians jumping into making a theological decision too quickly. Obviously this is a volatile topic and yet I think we should extend grace to one another to be able to take our time in deciding.

      We MUST do our homework. We must do exegetical work. We must do theological work. We must know gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender individuals. We must listen to stories.

      And to answer your question, we can’t simply “love” in some theoretical way. Love must be followed with actions. Love should be used to trump our phobia. Love requires change.

  • Laura

    I think this is entirely the wrong question. Once we make our decisions based on our own subjective view of love we lose sight of what is true. Human emotions are complicated and do not account for objective truth that comes from God himself. I think the question should be ‘What is the true thing to do?’ because God is Truth.

    In the case of homosexuality this does not mean that we alienate and abuse our Christian brothers and sisters who are homosexual. Rather they have a different vocation to live that we can support them in, in prayer and friendship. This vocation is a different approach than married or unmarried persons. They can have a vibrant life in the Church, but their offering up of their sexuality in not practicing it is far more beautiful and far more fulfilling than living a disordered sexual lifestyle.

    This is truth. God’s love is not about feeling good. God’s love is about purification. Purification can be difficult and cause us to doubt everything we know including our experience of God in our lives, but once we go through this purification we are far better for it. We are made Saints.

    There is absolutely a place for homosexuals in the Church where we are called to be “gracious, welcoming, and loving” towards them. However, that place looks different than this article suggests. It is not about including and making new space for homosexuals for there is already a place for them that has always existed in the Church. As believers we haven’t been “gracious, welcoming, and loving” in offering this place to them. This is a place where their own voluntary sacrifice of their sexual desires brings about greater holiness in the Church.

    I admit that this is incredibly difficult, but in the face of Truth I know my soul is better for having sought the objectivity of an all powerful and all loving God who desires what is best for us, even when it hurts. My emotions are fleeting, but God is constant.

    I believe this will change the world for the better, for true sacrifice, true purification is what Jesus sought to do when he suffered on the cross for us.

    • Lee

      Laura, have you embraced singleness? You speak of it like it is a wonderful thing. How long has it been since you accepted the call of celibacy and singleness?

    • Anonymous Covenanter

      Laura,

      I respect your beliefs, but reserve my right to disagree. There are many here coming from various perspectives. One man responded about his married life while suppressing his urges, you present celibacy and as I read it, it’s a life lived alone. Now, I think I know from experience where your argument easily goes next. Two people could not live together because it would be impossible to not engage in a sexual relationship. Maybe that’s not your thought, but it is generally where I’ve seen this argument go with people I’ve spoken to who take your stance of a celibate life. Then it moves on to the step of how we gain a new family in the church in our brothers and sisters in Christ.

      This leads me to some serious questions. How many young heterosexual men do you know that would be willing to give up their sexuality to stand side by side with their homosexual brothers and support them and stand with them as a partner in life. I’m speaking in the sense of companion to be there, absent of sexual expression. I honestly cannot think of one person who’d be willing to do this. Sure there might be a few, but generally when you get down to it, the church has been only willing to tell us how wrong we are and how wonderful the single life in celibacy is, yet all the while they push the marriage dynamic as the most fulfilling.

      I feel it’s almost hypocritical of the church to demand this from people, especially when they espouse such high regard for marriage and almost every last one would not be willing to give up their sexuality to stand by our side. I think the best option is committed relationships. If I’m wrong, it’s OK. I believe that God’s love can transform me into what he wants me to be. If I get hit by a car tomorrow, I’m confident that his love and what he did for me covers me. We are going to disagree on things. This is a huge failing in the church. It makes us want to separate and form new bodies that think just like us. Then we start pushing people out with our resolutions. It assures us that it will be hard for those who don’t share the view to coexist with us.

      Down to the core, no matter who is right or wrong, the focus on what we perceive as sin is not the point. The point is realizing how vast the love of God is. When we allow everyone to realize we are focusing in the wrong area, and we ditch the religion (“earning” our worthiness), God’s transforming love will lead us in the right direction. It’s the only thing that will lead us to whatever is right. It reminds me of Matthew 23:13. Much of the church is playing religion by focusing on “being good” as they play religion and stand outside the gates of heaven. They become a roadblock and block the gates. They’d rather have us join their club outside with them in religion. It’s easier to believe that our actions can somehow earn us a place in heaven. It’s much harder to let God’s love in and accept that He has already taken care of everything for us. When you start to live in that reality, it’s life changing, and it’s through God’s love and direction that you have the power to become who he wants you to be, whatever that may be.

    • anon

      Laura: Once we make our decisions based on our own subjective view of love we lose sight of what is true.

      Laura, I believe that if you read through the comments on the other blog entries here, you will see that what we have been discussing how we interpret “what is true” from God’s word on this issue. It is complex, it is not as straightforward as you imply. Unless you are suggesting that you have decided what is true for the rest of us in the Covenant? Just seeking clarification here.

      Laura: It is not about including and making new space for homosexuals for there is already a place for them that has always existed in the Church.

      I don’t think that the place that you have suggested that our brothers and sisters in Christ limit themselves to in the Church–silent and closeted and alone and in emotional pain–is an appropriate place given what we know now, in this time.

      Requiring silence and suppression is emotionally damaging, it is unloving. It is not the radical love that Christ modeled for us.

      Laura: disordered sexual lifestyle

      I’m not sure how I see a loving, faithful commitment to another person as “disordered.” If you are referring to disorder in the sense of “to disarrange the regular arrangement of” in regards to your perception of what you are comfortable with and what you are not, then I am happy to count myself among the followers of a disordered Christ, who was not happy with the status quo as He experienced it on earth.

      Perhaps one of the things (out of many) that goes unspoken in these conversations in regards to the sexual lifestyle of my homosexual brethren is the how the cultural stereotype of being gay has affected how we think about their sense of commitment to a loving, monogamous relationship. Being gay does not mean being sexually indiscriminate. One of the most loving and long lasting relationships I witness in my circle of friends is that practiced by two women who fell in love with each other when they were 20. It has been 25 years since that time, they are still together, still faithful to each other. They aren’t staying together for convenience, or for the children (they have none), or for the marriage (they are not allowed to marry in their state). Their faithfulness is grounded in authentic, respectful love for the other. Their sustainable fidelity is something many heterosexual couples yearn for. If loving commitment, authenticity, respect, grace, loyalty and care is sin, then I confess that I wish to live the life of a sinner. Amen.

    • And yet Laura, God is Love.

    • Denny Moon

      Laura,

      It is difficult for me to imagine what Truth would be if it didn’t include emotion. Do we not weep over the Truth that Jesus died for us? Do we not feel elated when the father receives the prodigal one home? Are we not overjoyed at Easter, our hearts lifted beyond our own imaginations? Is the faith a strictly intellectual exercise where we are only seeking the correct propositions? God save us. Who would want to belong to that faith?

      We human beings are one piece of cloth. Truth cannot be separated from emotion as if it were a sterile fact. That is scientific rationalism. Truth, at its root, involves not only who God is, but who we are as human beings, which necessarily involves emotions. But your suggestion that God is “objective” makes me think you won’t understand what I’m saying. I’m not really sure what that means. Jesus, however, wept, felt anger and compassion. Truth without emotion reduces human beings to enfleshed computers.

      When you say “feelings are fleeting” I think you are referring to the physical sensations of eating ice cream, roller coaster rides or having sex. I agree, those sensations are fleeting. But homosexual relationships are no more based in physical sensations than hetersexual relationships. The feeling of satisfaction that grows in a couple having made it through a difficult time; the feeling of security that grows inside a relationship that discovers, over time, the meaning of the full committment of their partner; the deep feeling of joy that results from caring for a partner who is ill and or dying; are some of the deepest rewards of human life and are anything but fleeting. They are experienced in both hetero- and homo- sexual relationships. These feelings have something to with what Jesus calls salvation, or the Kingdom of God.

      Don’t be afraid of your feelings. If you listen to what they are saying to you, they will set you free.

      Denny

  • Struggler

    Laura, I LOVE your reply. I struggle with homosexuality, and it is true that my emotions are extremely seductive. However I’ve tasted the truth, and the truth is Christ, who wants all of me, and who desires to mortify my flesh so that the individual God intended for me to be will shine through by the power of his blood.

    The focus is Jesus, and with our blemishes and stains we eagerly approach him. What made the pictures of the broken so beautiful (woman caught in the act of adultery, Samaritan woman, rich young man, beggars, cripples, blind, leprous… the list goes on) is that we can present all of this before him, and he will establish everything anew. It is no longer “we are” but instead “we were.” I don’t think the power comes from focusing on our brokenness, but seeing how far we’ve come away from that brokenness.

    I still bear this thorn in my flesh, and many of my same-sex attracted brothers do too. But that is no longer our focus, we now see significance in Christ. It’s no longer about how I feel or what I urge to do, but how God wants to use me and empower me to glorify him. That gives me far more joy than thinking about my homosexuality.

    • anonymous

      I want to reply but I can’t find the words. I am glad god is enough for you. I need more than that.

    • Mella

      Struggler, I cannot believe that God would require that you deny yourself a loving, committed, faithful relationship with someone else.

      God would deny us self-indulgence. Or the right to gain from hurting others. Or the right to hurt ourselves. At the most common denominator, if a relationship with another takes away from what is good from the World or from each other, instead of adding good to it or multiplying it, then I think that God would not desire that for us.

      However, I know same-sex couples whose committed relationship to each other multiples the good in the world. Multiplies the peace, the compassion, the kindness, the love. Couples who have been together for a decade, two decades. God would not expect you to deny yourself that type of relationship.

      If you choose to remain celibate, that is your choice. And if that choice makes you joyful, then I wish you much peace and happiness. There are others who would find joy and peace and love in a committed relationship with another, and they should not be denied.

  • A friend

    “Better the wounds of a friend than the kisses of an enemy.”

    I agree that the Church should welcome and include everyone. Liars, prostitutes, tax collectors, sinners of every shade and form. Sinners just like me. We should love them, grow with them, weep with them, laugh, dine, and participate in life together as a body.

    But I don’t think it’s right, or fair, to leave someone in their sin. I guess that the crux of the matter is this: is homosexuality sin? Is sex before marriage a sin? Is adultery sin? What sexual sins are really sins? What does the Romans passage mean? What about the old testament passages? What about 1 Timothy? Are we being honest when we interpret them or are we just trying to make Christianity palatable and putting in what we WANT as opposed to reading the passages for what they are?

    Before we go and start substituting our own logic for what the Bible has to say about sin, I suggest we remember that this is exactly what happened when a few others got together to decide that God’s reasoning didn’t make sense and here we all are.

    Love is great. Love also means speaking out in truth when someone is wrong. I was wrong when I “went too far” before I got married. I had to confess that sin, repent of that, and be healed. I’m still being healed, and I would hope that my Church would not reject me for my sin. If I were to participate in an adulterous relationship now that I’m married, I would hope that the Church and my believing friends would love me enough to let me know that I was causing many people harm in continuing to participate in my sin.

    I’m guessing that this blog and the group here agrees that homosexuality is not a sin. I disagree, obviously. But I don’t think that disagreeing means that one of us is superior to the other, or that either of us is going to be surprised at who we find, and don’t find, in heaven when we get there. But I do think that it’s important to voice a loving and dissenting opinion…because I don’t think it’d be loving of me to agree with your stance. And I’m sure you’d say the same to me. 🙂

    Let’s, as a body, remember to call sin for what it is. Mine, yours, theirs. All of it required a perfect Substitute. Let’s not muddle about in our sin, nor let our brothers and sisters muddle about in it either, as all this does is cheapen the Grace given for us.

  • Mella

    for what the Bible has to say

    Let’s suppose for a moment that we are still wrestling with the meaning of what the Bible is trying to say in parts. Yes, the Bible is God-breathed AND it was breathed through the pens of humans who cannot help but apply the filter of their language. Then, apply centuries of re-translation filters in Greek, Latin, etc. Since their language was not OUR contemporary language and the shared norms of their culture were not our norms, we are forced to wrestle with the translation of this complex and heady text. Scratch that, we’re not forced. We’re called to it.

    That would require us to:

    1) Identify a point of doubt
    2) Seek evidence to build an argument about meaning that answers the question, and then seek evidence for arguments and counterarguments
    3) Evaluate and weigh the value of each piece of evidence. (Not all pieces have equal weight) against other passages and text, more recent passages and text, text that has multiple meanings, etc.
    4) Modify our position

    To state “for what the Bible has to say” is to imply that the discussion is over, done. And that wanting to engage in discussion is something wrong. Let’s be blunt here. There are people who are terrified to sign their comments here or start a discussion in their own church because they will get punished for doing so. Their careers will derail, they could get fired, they will lose relationships. That type of culture is wrong, it is unhealthy, it is not loving, it is poisonous to the community. Especially since the discussion is NEVER done. Engaging in the discussion does NOT mean that everything in the Bible gets called into question and there is nothing to base our Faith on. That is ridiculous. That would mean that every Seminary class cracks the very foundation of our Christian beliefs. Which it doesn’t. We don’t muddle about sin or discussions about sin here. On the contrary, it would seem that what is labeled a sin and what isn’t is taken very seriously in this forum.

    We’ve already wrestled with “what the Bible has to say.” More than a few times. As a woman, I don’t repent that I desire to see women serving and speaking out in the Church. Because I don’t see it as a sin. Yet, we have 1 Corinthians 14:34 and 2 Tim 2:12.

    I have doubts about those “gotcha” passages when I hold your interpretation of them up to everything else that Christ said in the New Testament. Do those passages mean no same-sex relations ever? Does it mean that same sex bacchanals (the “indiscriminate sex” noted above, and rooted in the cultural activities of the time) are a sin? Does it mean the same sex relations pursued outside of a marriage are a sin? (There is a cultural and historical context to this as well.) Does it mean, like the passages about women serving in the Church, that there was a cultural element to the text that no longer applies since we now know, like being born female or male, that orientation is not a choice but is innate?

    If there is a point of doubt for this many of us, not for 1 or 2, there must be discussion. And for there to be discussion, there must be a SAFE space for discussion. And that space must be respectfully free of back room implications for careers.

  • Anonymous Covenanter

    Mella,

    Thank you for your remarks. I hate the fact I have to hide behind anonymity, but the reality of the Covenant right now is that many would just as soon dispose of me than deal with the ramifications and costs associated with letting me be part of the community.

    To A friend:

    I as a gay man in the church constantly have to worry. I have friends who’ve left the church over this issue, both gay and straight. I respect your view. I believe we all have to make decisions on what we believe from what we have to work with. Set aside your Bible, just for a moment. Look around and see the fruits of being compelled to point out your view. How many people have been hurt? How many families destroyed. Children abandoned to the streets, or worse, to suicide. It’s embedded in our culture and society to dehumanize the GBLT community. Clearly things are not working.

    Sexuality is something that is very intimate to a person. It’s delicate and should be handled that way. If I were to come to your church and I disagreed with you before I walked in the door, could you worship beside me? Can you allow me to be part of your community? Can I be fully a part of that community and participate in service and different roles? Or, would you feel compelled to have to tell me how wrong I am? Would you be willing to see that the Spirit of God is in me, that he’s working in me? Maybe I might have a few things wrong, but bringing them up might just be the one thing that drives me away. And when I go, three friends I’ve made in your community follow. It’s too painful. What if you took a different approach and decided to be my friend. I open up to you and we develop a deeper friendship. At some point, you might earn enough of my trust,respect, and earn the privilege to be able to talk to me about that part of my life. Maybe nothing changes as a result. Could you still accept me, love me? If I’m wrong, will the Holy Spirit not lead me to what’s right on God’s timing. Is it not true that He will transform us? Can you let God do his work in me? Love is a better motivator than constantly telling people how wrong they are.

    I’ll make it more personal and give an example. My dad is the one in my family who’s basically against this with just about every bone in his body. He’s the type of person who’s absolutely compelled to tell it like it is to him. It’s hard for him to shut his mouth. I must confess that I am much like him. When my dad first found out, it was from my step-mom. It was planned, and she broke the news to him. It took him about a day to vent and say all kinds of things that are hurtful and just plain wrong. I only heard about these things from family members who shared what was going on. After he had time to cool off, he called me and we talked. We discussed stuff and we were done with it. We disagree. My dad will likely never change in his views, but you know what, he still accepts me as his son. I am still part of my family. Even more so, my boyfriend of eight years is part of the family. He loves him and treats him just the same as he treats my sister-in-laws. He doesn’t bring up debate about sexuality. This says so much more to me to see this example of love lived out. He sets aside his strong convictions, he doesn’t abandon his beliefs, but he realizes that if he were to go down that road of having to share his views all the time, it would have a significant negative impact on our relationship. Instead, his love has said so much more to me than all the arguing could have ever done. In fact, because of him, I can better respect people who have different views than me. I am still family, and I don’t feel second-class, I am still loved and my dad would do anything in the world for myself or my boyfriend. He respects me as a fellow person, and as a Christian as well. My disagreement with him does not disqualify my faith.

    I agree with Mella, the discussion is still open, and I believe it’s open in so many ways. Even if we close it again, it may come up again. We are always learning and growing. We deceive ourselves if we believe we have everything settled with absolute certainty and leave no room for change. When we presume ourselves to be so right on something, it’s right about that time that we come to find out we are sorely mistaken and we’ve had it all wrong, and this goes for all perspectives.

    • A friend

      I disagree with about 99% of the people who sit next to me in Church on any given Sunday about more than one thing! 🙂 (Including my mom, dad, husband and best friend.) I think it’s a little sad that disagreement = bad or negative. I would love to get to know more people in my Church community and disagree and argue and have discussions. This is the way the Church body grows and is sharpened! By no means should discussion be quashed.

      But I think that if we are going to discuss, it’s important that ground rules be laid. Are we talking about how we feel about things? Are we talking about experiences? Or are we talking about Scripture? And if we are talking about the Bible, then how do we interpret it? Do we go back to the Greek? And whose understanding of the Greek do we accept as valid?

      As far as how I feel, I have several openly gay friends and I love them like crazy. But that doesn’t mean that I agree with them. They know it. They disagree with me…but it doesn’t mean we can’t worship together. It doesn’t mean we can’t talk. Sometimes it means we let things go for the sake of the greater good. As far as people’s experiences…well, there IS no arguing that. No one can say, “Your experience is invalid.” That would be crazy. (But I think it’s fair to remember that experience does not necessarily equate with truth. I experience night hallucinations that are horrible. They are not real, nor is there truth in them. My experience does not grant them the status of truth.)

      But one can go to the Bible and say, “Look…here is what this says. Here it is in context. This is how I understand it. How do you see it? If this means I disagree with you on this subject, well, so we disagree. At the very least, we have Jesus in common and we can hang on to that.” But I don’t think it’s fair to those who dissent with your opinion to paint them with the paintbrush of hateful, uneducated or hard-hearted…or even discompassionate. Or even unsympathetic!

      And yes, it’s agreed that one person’s telling another doesn’t always work. Especially people who don’t know each other from a whole in the wall on an internet discussion. People who have the right to rebuke another for sin are those who have a) prayed for hours/days/years on the subject and b) who are intimately involved in the life of the person they are rebuking. Leaving most of the work to the work of the Holy Spirit IS where it’s at.

      And I think it’s OK to disagree. The apostles disagreed at least once. 🙂

      • Anonymous Covenanter

        A Friend:

        Thanks for responding. You give me a lot more hope after seeing your reply. I agree, disagreement doesn’t equal bad. It’s part of life. I’m glad to hear that you have many gay friends. That alone is very promising and tells me you probably know a lot about what GBLT people are experiencing. You are growing as a person for this. You’ve taken steps beyond what many in the church ever would, at least that’s how I feel from my experience.

        As far as what we are talking about, I think it’s a little of each, experience, scripture, and feelings. I do realize that scripture is elevated and more authoritative in this group. As far as looking at scripture, I think we can both see that on at least a few of the verses have come under a lot of scrutiny. That alone tells us that we are never done evaluating and studying and learning. In the past, the faith was used to suppress women and endorse slavery. This is not the case anymore, but it does teach us a lesson that our learning never stops. Discussion needs to continue.

        I do have questions about Sola Scriptura. When I look at Paul when he suggested it was OK to divorce if a non-believing spouse is unwilling to continue in a marriage. On what precedent did Paul come up with this understanding? I don’t know of anywhere to point to within scripture to explain this. In fact if you look closer at the verses, Paul indicates it was him, not God saying how to handle the situation. It seems to me that at minimum, this seems to indicate that Paul did not have precedent from scripture to work from in forming his guidance, yet we accept this. What made it become scripture for us? We accept it as part of scripture. Is the door to have further revelation closed? How does the resolution fall into all of this? I don’t propose that I have these answers. It’s part of the dialog where others will probably have more to offer.

        Back to your point on wanting someone to tell you if your doing wrong. This works in some situations, and in others it can do a lot of harm. For the Covenant to have a resolution in place stating it is sin, it has some strong implications for GBLT people wishing to find a church community within our walls. Even if after all being said and done, the resolution happens to be correct in it’s statements, what does it say to the GBLT visitor to find out that we have made this such a big deal that we had to come up with a resolution? To me it seems like it makes a really big pronouncement that GBLT are committing something especially horrible. What does it say to GLBT members? How do GBLT members respond? How does the church respond? Where’s the guidance? The resolution was rushed, but personally I wonder what has come of it. How have the churches been guided? My bet is there’s been little to nothing in this regard. More than anything, it was a rushed issue that made a group happy to make a pronouncement. To me, it’s the same as the people who believe it’s their life’s responsibility to continue to tell GBLT people how bad they are.

        Let me be clear in this though, I don’t get this feeling from you. I’m letting my thoughts spill out of my mind. I think all of us have a lot to offer to the conversation. I appreciate your willingness to join in. I hope that as you join the conversation, you will allow for discussion that brings better understanding. We may disagree with one another. That may or may not change, but keeping the discussion open helps us both understand the difficulties in holding our respective beliefs, but that’s what it’s about. How can we be inclusive and respect differences?

        In closing, I don’t see you as hateful for holding different beliefs. It is fair to say that there are those out there that automatically equate those with differing views as hateful. You are correct there. A lot of this has to do with people who’ve been badly hurt. It’s like the child that gets mad at their parent and tells them they hate them in a moment of anger. So from that perspective, I can only ask that you show grace and know that not all of us automatically think you are a hateful bigot for holding your views. If anything, it makes me cringe when I hear people react this way, but I know that for most of them, it comes from experiences of pain. Again, thank you for joining the conversation.

  • Michael Satterberg

    Mella,
    Thank you for your response. I have been thinking for days about how I should contribute to this discussion. Should I tell my story? Should I quote scripture? Should I be “Minnesota nice” or take the gloves off and throw some punches? Should I stay quiet? Should I try to write something encouraging, or speak about the doubt I have about change in the Covenant?

    Mella, you have just started to breach the reality of what “out” LGBT individuals face. It is heartbreaking but also pitiful that there are numerous people commenting in this discussion anonymously. It is heartbreaking because as an openly gay person I realize how hard it is to “come out” and am saddened by the fear people are facing. But it is pitiful because, how can you have an honest and open discussion when you do not even know who you are talking to?

    When God eventually gave me the courage to come out 7 years ago I was ready to lose my family, my friends, my church family, and my job. Luckily in the process I only lost my church family… kind of ironic now that I actually think about it. I guess I say “luckily” because with my experience, God realized I would be better off leaving a hurtful community rather than staying and trying to foster change within it. Instead he lead me to a church community that accepted all LGBT individuals as brothers and sisters in Christ, no exceptions. (I want to point out that I realize some people are strong enough and need to stay in a tough situation to foster change, and sometimes that has to be done anonymously, but I am just not one of those people).

    Now back to the point that I wanted to focus on. Being “out” comes with consequences. Luckily we live in a country where LGBT individuals do not have to fear being arrested or killed by our government because we are LGBT, however there are many people in the world where this is not the case. When I decided to come out, I knew that I could face hardships. I had decided I would not hide my sexuality at my current job or whenever I interviewed for a job in the future. I had lived in the closet for 21 years and knew how miserable a place that was. There was no way I was going back, even if it meant I would be, harassed, abused, or discriminated against when applying for a job. I knew I did not want a job that would require me to be someone I was not. For those of you who are straight and have never had to live in a closet, I would ask that you think about how life would feel if you had to hide the fact that you are a Christian. Every time you didn’t mention it, or took off your cross necklace before going to work, or said that you were “running errands” Sunday morning when people asked where you were, I imagine you would feel a large amount of guilt and shame. That is how most “closeted” gay people feel. You can’t tell people where you “really were,” or you take off your rainbow bracelet before going to work, or you say that the guy in the picture on your desk is a cousin or brother, not your partner.

    I know what the Covenant’s stance is on this issue and I understand why people are posting anonymously. But I challenge those who are thinking of posting anonymously in the future to think long and hard. Do you love your LGBT brothers and sisters enough to suffer with us? Where does your level of commitment on this issue lie? I have been told by numerous people that they love and support me, but I have not seen those people on the front lines with me. Because of this, it gives me the message that you don’t really care, and that you are willing to let us be on the front lines alone… Since this whole discussion is about God, where is the faith in God that he will provide for you or protect you if you make yourselves vulnerable and speak the truth without hiding behind a mask.

    To conclude I thank all of those who have posted their name, even including Superintendent Howard Burgoyne, although it seems to me it has encouraged fear which perhaps has contributed to people posting anonymously (sorry, I needed to have one snarky remark, it’s in my blood which consists of 3 or 4 previous generations of Covenanters).

  • Anon

    Jesus did accept all. He also told them to sin no more.
    Are we to ask the adulterer to sin no more, or let them continue?
    Everyone fails at sinlessness, but none are excused from it.

    • Anonymous Covenanter

      This makes me question why the church does not harass those who have remarried after divorce. There seem to be one definite exemption for divorce, infidelity. Paul seems to allow it in the case of an unbelieving spouse who does not wish to continue the marriage.

      It seems to me that Paul was using discretion under the guidance of the Holy Spirit in developing this teaching. If we are going to hold so tightly to Sola Scriptura, then a huge proportion of our churches is committing adultery on an ongoing basis, yet we condone it. We make exceptions for these people, yet they don’t get harassed and called sinners. Nobody protests their funerals. They don’t have to hide who they are from people.

      If you want to bring up adultery, then let’s really talk about it. One big problem I have with Sola Scriptura is the fact that it immediately puts anything that cannot be found written in the cannon is held under great suspicion and hardly has a reasonable chance of being evaluated. If we really want to ask that question about what to do with the adulterer, and we want to be strict about this and stick to Sola Scriptura, then let’s do so. I don’t think the church is ready to go there.

      I don’t feel that the scripture is clear on a lot of issues, but we do use the guidance of the Holy Spirit to direct us. We cannot deny that we do. What happens when a wife wants to divorce her husband because she discovers he’s a serial killer with no intent to stop, or perhaps he’s involved in white collar crime and is unrepentant, or maybe he’s abusive and beats her, but in all cases, he is really a flawed believer who has never been unfaithful to her? What do we do in these situations? I think I would be hard pressed to find many people in the church who would harass this woman if she divorced her husband and remarried, but under a strict interpretation using Sola Scriptura, how do we arrive to the conclusion that it is OK for her to divorce, remarry, and enjoy a sexual relationship with her new husband?

      These are hard questions. Simple questions like what are we to tell the adulterers, continue or sin no more takes the stance that you have already made up your mind and have concluded it is clearly sin to you. It’s not very helpful to the dialog unless you are willing to ask the tough questions, evaluate your own beliefs, and offer more than simple questions that incite further frustration. Let’s move beyond that. You absolutely can believe what you want, but please offer us more than that. I’m sure you have a story, you have your own life and issues. Everyone has something to offer to the conversation.

      Mike:

      Thank you. I actually know you, and I understand your frustration with the anonymity. I really do understand, yet there are some of us who have to use discretion. It may be that some of us are mostly out and we are in position to be able to represent GBLT people, but all of those efforts could be lost in a heartbeat if handled improperly. I’m proud of you for what you have done. My place is where I am. I have a role to play, and it’s hard, but I have seen tremendous progress over time, and I’m able to represent us in a manner that would not be possible if I were to be totally out.

      • Michael Satterberg

        Anonymous Covenanter :

        Thank you for your response. I do understand that sometimes certain people can accomplish more underground or anonymously rather than out in the open. I think my main frustration is that the Covenant is still a place where people do have to stay anonymous. Instilling fear to discourage open dialog seems so backwards to me. Although it comes off this way, I did not intend to “scold” those who are posting anonymously, but rather challenge people to reflect. I realize if people were not able to post anonymously we would lose some very important dialog. I look forward to following this discussion and pray for a healed and renewed Covenant Denomination that encourages open dialog.

    • Ah yes, the classic response. This response reminds me of Pilate washing his hands of Jesus’ crucifixion.

      This response, I think, doesn’t help dialogue at all. It just pushes people buttons, especially those in the LGBT community.

      The reason I see people “sinning no more” is because they had an encounter with Christ, not because some Christian said to them “leave your life of sin.” If you told me to leave my life of sin, I would laugh at you and probably say, “who are you to judge me.” But when I encounter the risen Christ, oh goodness, is my life transformed.

  • An Ex-Covenanter

    One of the remarkable things about many sins is that it is possible to explain why they are damaging to a person without recourse to a holy book. Jesus’ admonition to love one’s enemy has been admired by humans throughout history not because of Jesus’ authority, but because one is struck upon hearing it by how good and beautiful a world transformed by such behavior would be. Jesus’ command to forgive not seven times, but seventy times seven is powerfully attractive: who cannot be persuaded that this is surely the best way for people to live?

    Yet with homosexuality, the only recourse people have is to authority – Paul says it’s bad! – and their own feelings of fear. And whenever fear does not have enough of a hold (as is the case for so many of my generation, who have known so many gay boys and girls and now men and women personally), we find every argument that does not boil down to “because the Bible says so!” to be lacking.

    For years, my wife would ask me, “Why is homosexuality wrong again?” She was genuinely interested in my reasons for my belief, but she couldn’t really hold on to the arguments… they were tricky, convoluted, slippery. And every time I reconstructed them for her, I was struck by how fragile and flimsy they were.

    I would suggest asking another question besides simply “what does the Bible say about homosexuality?” I would suggest asking: “can I make an argument about the wrongness of homosexuality that someone who didn’t believe in the Bible would find convincing or even beautiful?”

    My own experience was that when faced with this simple challenge enough times, all the arguments fell away.

  • I’ve wanted to respond to everyone’s comments individual. I love the discussion that is going on. I enjoy the honesty that is coming out in so many posts. My hope is that we could do this face-to-face as well. Mella, thank you for your thoughts. Laura, thank you for your opposition. One of God’s Women, thank you for your questions and the “what now?” that you ask will be partially answered in my thesis. 🙂 Mike and Anonymous Covenanter, thank you for your willingness to share your stories. I hope we could hear your experience in your own post! I would enjoy learning more. An Ex-Covenanter, I am saddened that you are no longer a part of the ECC, but am so thankful for your insightful post. It is challenging.

    Yet, it is interesting to me how many comments have started on this post. If you go back and look at Andrew’s post, or Eva’s story, or Ben’s experience, no one gets into heated debates about sexuality. The stories speak for themselves. You cannot argue with someone’s story.

    Yet on this post, as well as Phil’s, it seems to be the place to debate theologies and views about sexuality. Would it be just as easy to write similar comments on Andrew’s post? Would someone have the chutzpah to say, “Andrew, you’re sexuality is disordered and your experience/emotions are fleeting, but thanks for sharing your story”? I don’t know.

    That is why we must continue to hear from those within the ECC who have stories. Stories can often help enlighten Scripture, are a must in discerning theological decisions, and can show us the character of God. We won’t argue the context, language, translation, or hermeneutical approach of Andrew’s story. We won’t question what is true in his story. We won’t question if he has the Holy Spirit. We call him friend or loved-one and let his story penetrate our hearts and thoughts.

    It is time the heterosexual Christian community stops talking for a while and starts listening (even though I’ve been living the gay community for 10 years, I include myself in this). It’s too easy to jump into debates about “where is it written?” that we forget people. We forget to let the voiceless have a voice. Andrew, Mike, Anonymous Covenanter, and others, can no longer be considered voiceless in our denomination. So I encourage us to sit back, listen, let stories penetrate our hearts, and learn. And I encourage others in the ECC, who might be afraid to post, to share their stories. We need to hear your voices. I need to hear your voice.

  • mella

    People who have the right to rebuke another for sin are those who have a) prayed for hours/days/years on the subject and b) who are intimately involved in the life of the person they are rebuking. don’t exist on this planet. Only God can rebuke you.

    “Let he who is without sin cast the first stone.”

    We all have sin. To be human/a sinner and to feel that you still have the right to rebuke anyone is pharisaical and self-righteous. Therefore, best to keep your stones in your pocket and examine the log in your own eye.

  • Sam

    “Once we make our decisions based on our own subjective view of love we lose sight of what is true.” Let us follow Jesus and His example of love. The Gospels give us a pretty good idea of what that looks like.

    “offering up of their sexuality in not practicing it is far more beautiful and far more fulfilling than living a disordered sexual lifestyle.” I would suggest that it is not our place to suggest to anyone that they offer up their sexuality by not practicing it. That statement, especially the term “disordered sexual lifestyle”, is a subjective opinion, not shared by the APA nor, in the opinion of many, by Scripture.

    “Love also means speaking out in truth when someone is wrong”. I can not remember the last time I heard anyone mention this in any discussion regarding anything other than the role of women, abortion or homosexuality. I never, ever hear it mentioned with regard to gluttony, lust, adultery, slothfulness, pornography, lack of love or you-name-it. We do tend to be very selective in “speaking truth”, do we not?

    Is our understanding of truth, or of what the Bible says, correct? The church has changed its mind about many things it once thought the Bible said. Galileo peered through his telescope and figured out that the earth revolved around the sun (not the other way around) and was not the center of the universe. The church was certain the Bible taught otherwise. Eventually the church changed its “interpretation”. In my own lifetime I remember churches once teaching that the Bible said black people were an inferior race and that the Pope was Satan. The understanding of what the Scripture says on the issue of homosexuality is changing in many churches.

    Billy Graham’s statement “It’s the Holy Spirit’s job to convict, the Father’s job to judge, and our job to love” seems to reflect what I find in Scripture.

  • Lynne N.

    Historically, if you look at the institution of heterosexuality I’d say it has a reprehensible burden of sinfulness to it. It has condoned trading women as male property, using women as breeding machines, killing mothers in favor of unborn children, abusing and controlling women. That is what male religious leaders in the church have held up for centuries as to what women are withing traditional heterosexual marriages. I believe this legacy continues in the rape, prostitution and pornography industry today… an industry that is heterosexual, puts billions of dollars in the pockets of heterosexual men worldwide… to me, heterosexuality as an institution is a horror story, that I believe all straight christian men should deal with, and when they deal with that and their complicity in this system, maybe I’ll have time to read their commentaries on the gay world. But until they face head on what they do to women in so-called “marriage” well I won’t be impressed.

  • Dave Swaim

    As we think pastorally about the “what now” question posed above, I am wondering if there is room to affirm that homosexuality may not God’s ideal for humanity, and yet still embrace gays and lesbians in loving, monogamous unions. Whenever one sinner loves another faithfully and sacrificially (and a long-term intimate relationship always requires humility and sacrifice) – there is something praiseworthy there. Can I even say something Christ-like? Even while believing it is not perfect that the other person is a same sex partner, if that is a given, would there be a place to establish that relationship with a covenant so that they can move toward increasing holiness in many other areas? If an already married same-sex couple came to my church, rather than only hope they are healed to the degree that they no longer seek same-sex sexuality, could I instead counsel them toward patience, grace, truth-telling, humility, and all the other virtues I would encourage in any other couple? Could I not truly celebrate the inherent beauty represented by the 25th anniversary of any two sinners loving each other faithfully?

    I wrestle with this, and appreciate this dialogue.

  • Joshua Throneburg

    Nathan, I heard and appreciated your talk at the East Coast Conference Ashram and appreciate your thoughtfulness in this article as well.

    That said, I was surprised and saddened when you ended (referencing Martin’s question of “What is the loving thing to do?”) with “And so, I continue to ask myself that same question. I think it is time the ECC starts asking that question too.”

    There are Covenant pastors and Covenant leaders who have been asking that very question for years, some for decades. I don’t know if it was simply a careless comment at the end of your article, or actual hubris seeping out, but I think it would be misguided to claim that you will continue asking that question and will hope that the Covenant catches up with you. I think the long-standing prayer, study and struggle of our Covenant colleagues demands and deserves more than that.

    • Hey Joshua,

      I think you misunderstood my thoughts or perhaps I simply wasn’t clear. The sentence was not seeping hubris or being careless, I hope. I was not trying to belittle the work and conversations that have been done in the past. I’m aware how long such dialogue has been occurring and by no means meant to say that I am well advanced in my thinking on the subject. I learned a lot from Ashram and countless ECC pastors that I have come to know. If it came across that way, accept my apology.

      However, it seems that the topic, or the question, is not often addressed in public. My hope is that rather than being silent, passive about our differences, or forced to speak about this topic in private, we can do so in public, can engage our differences, and learn from one another.

  • An Ex-Covenanter

    Yet on this post, as well as Phil’s, it seems to be the place to debate theologies and views about sexuality. Would it be just as easy to write similar comments on Andrew’s post?

    I, at least, am guilty of looking for a place to argue. I’m not only an ex-Covenanter, I’m an ex-Christian. I was surprised by this blog and pleased – to see tolerance flowering in the church I grew up in is a pleasure – but I have no personal investment in either the ECC or in the greater church.

    I do wonder, though, whether it might not be important to allow a certain amount of actual debate. For me, the real turning point in my own beliefs about homosexuality came when reading Andrew Sullivan’s Virtually Normal, where he deals with the best arguments he can muster for Christianity against homosexuality and carefully, precisely, and thoroughly dismantles them. I must admit that once this work was done, it was the preface – where he pours out the story of his own sexual self-discovery with heart-breaking honesty – that finally changed me. But the work of demonstrating that theological and biblical arguments against homosexuality simply cannot be defended in open debate was essential for me.

    If this is not demonstrated, it’s easy to feel – as I once did – that the arguments for homosexuality amount to ideological wishy-washiness, a desire not to make hard and unpleasant judgments, a desire not to have to tell anyone that they shouldn’t do what they want to do.

    • Hey Ex-Covenanter,

      I do agree with you that debate is healthy and beneficial. My fear is how that dialogue is played out. Is it in a safe place? Can we talk without getting overly heated? Can we disagree while still respecting one another and having compassion for one another? That is my hope at least.

      • Lorian

        I for one value the dialog with those who oppose same-sex relationships. I find that, even in cases where the person with whom I’m having the discussion is immovable in his/her opinions, and even sometimes brutally cruel in how they are stated, the conversation gives me opportunity to share ideas and thoughts I might otherwise keep to myself, and those who may be following the discussion sometimes encounter new ideas which can, in some cases, even change minds and hearts.

        Dialog can be difficult and painful, but I’ve found that it’s worth the effort.

        • Mella

          So true, Lorian! Often in dialogue the primary benefit to me is not what I seek to accomplish in changing the minds of others. Instead, I find it to be so cathartic and transformational to have a space in which to articulate what I believe, why I believe it, and what the implications are for that belief so that I may more fully embody it and act upon it.