Saturday, December 10, 2011

 

Another view: Gays and lesbians and churches


Last Sunday, there were many reactions to my sermon in Virginia. Though I do not agree with him, I particularly admired Bryan Bufkin, a former student during my Baylor years (and a good one), for putting his name behind his beliefs, and thought he articulated his thoughts well. I also (with prodding from David Best, a UST student) regret the tone of my initial response to him. Bryan has graciously agreed to provide a longer explication of his thoughts, which are included below:

Hello all. My name is Bryan Bufkin. I am a recent graduate from Baylor Law and a new attorney in Fort Worth, Texas. Following a difference of opinion between Professor Osler and myself regarding how Christians should treat homosexuality within the walls of a church or Christian institution, Professor Osler has been very gracious to give me this forum to express my opinions on this subject. For this, I am truly grateful. In a nutshell, I believe that engaging in homosexuality is a sinful behavior. And, just like any other sin, I don’t believe that accepting and encouraging that behavior in a Christian institution is what the Bible tells Christians to do.

I ask anybody reading this to do so with an open mind and a graceful heart. I am not trying to convince anybody that homosexuality is a sinful behavior, as that would lead to many rabbit trails and would ultimately be counter-productive. The reason I originally posted was because I felt like a lot of Christians were being unfairly labeled as being judgmental, ignorant, and hateful. I don’t believe this is the case for many Christians. This is an extremely difficult issue, and I have spent a lot of time praying and thinking about it. The point of this post is to show that there are sound reasons for my beliefs and that this is at the very least a difficult issue that many Christians have spent considerable time analyzing. I think it’s important to have an honest conversation about these issues instead of hiding behind surface level arguments about love and acceptance.

I am writing this post based on a previous post from Professor Osler. I am limiting the scope of this post to the two issues that I believe were addressed in Professor Osler’s blog: (1) whether Christian institutions that believe that homosexuality is a sin should appoint leaders that are un-repenting, practicing homosexuals, and (2) whether those institutions should bless homosexual couples at the altar. Also, I am writing this post under the assumption that homosexuality is a sin. It makes it easier to do that instead of continually qualifying it with “assuming you agree it is a sin.” Please read this post in that context.

To provide context of the earlier blog post, Professor Osler’s argument is that as Christians, our number one goal should be to love others. Our role is not to judge others. That is God’s role. I completely agree with those two basic underlying concepts. However, we disagree on what that practically means. Professor Osler argued that it is not loving to exclude certain behaviors within a church. I hope that I have fairly characterized his positions.

I believe that engaging in homosexuality is a sin based on my understanding of the Bible. Whether or not you agree, it is hard to argue that there isn’t at least a solid foundation in the Bible for this belief. It is mentioned throughout the Bible, including in the New Testament (“Do you not know that the wicked will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor male prostitutes nor homosexual offenders nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.” 1 Corinthians 6:9-10). If you do read the Bible to mean that a homosexual act is sinful, it should be treated like any other sin.

The ultimate question is this: is it unloving and/or judgmental for Christians not to bless homosexuals at the altar or not to allow un-repenting, practicing homosexuals to be leaders within a Christian institution? Professor Osler thinks that it is unloving and judgmental, and I do not. Our source of disagreement is our different definitions of what “love” and “judgmental” mean. It is very easy to label any accepting and encouraging behavior as being loving, but one must look past simply labeling love as “acceptance” or “encouragement” because love doesn’t always mean those things.

We both used the story of the stoning of the prostitute to illustrate our respective points. Professor Osler’s point regarding Jesus’ love is that “they were stoning a woman, and he loved her despite her sins . . . . Every time he was confronted with a rule, he responded by talking about the principle of love.” My point is that at the end of that story, Jesus told the woman to “go and sin no more.” To me, that’s the full picture of what love is. Love doesn’t mean simply accepting behavior that will lead one away from God. It was loving of Jesus to tell her to stop sinning because Jesus knew that her acts of prostitution were separating her from God. I am not saying that we are like Jesus and we should tell anybody we want to go and sin no more. I am simply saying that when we say that Jesus was all about love, it is easy to mischaracterize what that means. Yes, Jesus was all about love, but love doesn’t mean blind acceptance and encouragement. I am not sure where this definition of love has come from. Because sinning separates man from God, encouraging a person to continue to sin is not loving at all. An example I would use is a child that is attempting to put his hand near a fire. Would it be loving for the parent to encourage or allow the child to put his hand on the fire because that is what love is? No. It would be more loving to keep the child from hurting himself. If we are going to point to the story of the stoning of the prostitute to illustrate what love is, we must read the whole story. Jesus did not show the prostitute love by telling her, “I love everything about you, even the fact that you are a prostitute. Keep on being a prostitute if that makes you happy.” The story does paint a picture of love, but it is a more complex picture than many have made it out to be.

Professor Osler argued that “[i]n a world where two men or two women can blessed before this altar of God, things will be unfamiliar. That is the nature of the journey. That is the cost of justice and hope and love.” I disagree completely that this is the cost of love. Ultimately, Professor Osler is arguing that it is loving not only to accept homosexual behavior, but to celebrate it by allowing homosexual couples to be blessed at the altar. He is asking Christians to treat the sin of homosexuality differently than any other sin. Take the story of the prostitute, for instance. Can you imagine how preposterous that it would be for Christians to be mulling over whether or not to allow prostitutes to be authority figures within the church? Then, not only accepting them as authority figures within the church, but holding ceremonies to celebrate their acts of prostitution? You can plug any other sin into that scenario, and it seems preposterous. Imagine an un-repenting, adulterous preacher holding a ceremony to celebrate that a thief has decided to continue to steal things. Not only would that never happen, but nobody that I know of has ever argued that it should happen. I understand that you can throw the word “love” out there and say just about anything, just as easily as people can throw out that Christians are ignorant and hateful. We must start examining what these statements really mean. The Bible doesn’t allow us as Christians to decide for ourselves how we should treat certain acts so long as we define the treatment as “loving.” I think it’s dangerous.

Many argue that if a church believed that homosexuality was a sin and decided not to hire leaders that were un-repentant, active homosexuals, it would be judging the person for their behavior. Professor Osler said: “don't think you can decide it is your role to help other to identify their sins and pretend that isn't judging. Of course it is. That's what calling another person a ‘sinner’ is.” I think this is an extremely tricky issue. The Bible does tell us not to judge, but what does that mean? Just because Christians use their judgment, that doesn’t mean they are judging as the Bible tells us not to do. We must be able to discern what sinful behavior is. In the context of a church, we need to be able to communicate to fellow believers when we feel like their acts constitute a sin. That does not mean that we are judging. I say this because if Christians weren’t able to do this, it would be impossible to follow other commands in the Bible. The Bible requires discernment of sins throughout the New Testament (“Brothers, if someone is caught in a sin, you who are spiritual should restore him gently. But watch yourself, or you also may be tempted.” Galations 6:1; “If your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault, just between the two of you.” Matthew 18:15 (spoken by Jesus)). One of the roles of the church is to try to help others within the church live as Godly and sinless of a life as possible, and it would be impossible to do this if we accept the definition of judging that so many have given it. Judging the other person would be condemning them or deciding in your mind that they are a bad person, which is not proper. I think that the concept of judging is one of the most misused parts of the Bible.

As Christians, we are always discerning what behaviors God has deemed to be unacceptable, and we have always attempted to keep Christian institutions sacred by trying to keep those behaviors from being encouraged or celebrated. It is not considered to be judgmental in the context of other sins. Why should homosexuality be any different? We don’t consider it unloving, judgmental, etc. when Christians make discernments of other, less controversial sins. For example, it is sinful to worship other gods. If a group of people wanted to worship a pagan god in a Christian church, Christians would have no problem deciding that this type of worship is not Biblical. It isn’t judgmental for the Church to keep the worship of pagan gods outside of the church. The Church isn’t condemning the pagan worshippers or deciding what their punishment should be. The Church is merely making a discernment that this type of behavior is not Biblical, and thus, it shouldn’t be encouraged or accepted within a Church. I see no difference with homosexuality. We cannot define “judging” as discerning whether an act is sinful only for homosexuality and then allow this exact same discernment for other sins without considering it to be “judging.” It is dangerous to have a different standard of what judging is for different sins. It gives man too much power to manipulate the Bible to his liking.

Many critics may be thinking that I am treating homosexuality harsher than any other sin considering that we are all sinners, including the leaders of our Christian institutions. The argument you may be making is that if we’re all sinners, why should homosexuals be kept from being a leader while other sinners are not? The difference between the two is not the sin. As I’ve argued throughout, homosexuality should be treated like all other sins. The difference between the two is repentance. If somebody is struggling with homosexual urges and slips up and sins but then repents and tries to stop engaging in those acts, that person is exactly like any other sinner. However, the problem that I see is when homosexuals have determined that this isn’t sinful behavior, they aren’t going to attempt to stop doing it, and they aren’t going to ask for forgiveness for it. If the Baptist Church believes that homosexuality is a sin, it would not make sense for the Church to have leaders who were engaging in that act without repenting. The Church would then have leaders that have a fundamental difference of opinion on a huge issue. Practically, this could lead to major problems. Imagine a deacon in a Baptist church teaching that homosexuality is okay. This would be in direct contradiction to the message that the church believes in. Additionally, in 1st Timothy Chapter 3, the Bible lays out that leaders of the Church should be very respectable men of God. Appointing leaders that are un-repenting would not fall in line with that passage. This is another area where trying to apply the argument to other sins shows how preposterous it is. Imagine a person trying to be a leader in a Christian institution who believes that adultery is not a sin, who continues to commit adultery, and who won’t repent for that behavior. It would be wholly uncontroversial for Christian institutions to find that this isn’t the type of person that should be a leader in the institution. I see no difference for homosexuality.

I have heard from many people that Jesus was about inclusion. I agree with that. However, sin separates us from God, who is perfect. Including others doesn’t mean encouraging acts that will keep them further from God. That would actually have the effect of alienating them from God, not including them in His glory. The key is not to keep everybody from sinning . . . that is impossible. The key is to try to keep everybody within the Church as close to God as possible, which means to try to keep fellow believers from sinning, but also to keep them repenting. This is what will bring a sinner closer to God. This is what will lead to the ultimate inclusion.

In conclusion, Jesus Christ was all about love. I am so blessed to have been washed by the blood of Jesus. I am so glad to know what true love is. I believe that because sinning keeps us from God, it would not be loving to encourage sinful behavior. I believe that having a functional and Biblical church means not having leaders that will not repent of their sins. I hope that I’ve at least illustrated why others believe the way that I do. I hope that people can see that in this difficult subject, Christians like myself make our decisions based on the love of Jesus and not based on hate as we’ve so often been accused.

Comments:
I think I understand that if a church and its members see homosexuality as a sin then they would not condone it. I guess the argument really starts there. If a church thinks it is a sin to love someone of your own sex then I guess that church will never let Homosexuals marry there. I get that.

I do not see it as a sin but that can be debated. I see it as just that some people are born that way - it is like preference and no one really understands why. This sounds weird but for ex: I love watermelon. My husband hates it. Why does one of us like it and one of us not? Who knows? Just like some people just go for their own sex instead of the opposite... I see it as a preference and not a sin.

I get why the church does not want to marry homosexuals etc. But why is it AGAINST THE LAW for them to get married NOT in a church?? To me that makes NO sense.

There are so many great churches out there that do accept homosexuals and do not think it is a sin and if I were gay I would not keep trying to change the minds of those churches that think it is a sin. I respect their position but all they are going to do, while very nice people, is want to "change you back to normal." I would just find a Gay Friendly church and worship there. Part of worship is "fellowship," right? Doesn't that mean that you feel sort of a kinship with the other people at the church? You would want to find a place where you felt at home. If something so fundamental like who you want to marry is against almost every other person at that church why would you want to hang with them anyway? Just go find a church full of people who will be nice to you and like you for who you are instead of trying to change you or convince you that your preferences are sinful. There are plenty of great places to worship all over the place.

I still do not understand why they are not allowed to get married, though... I mean even in a civil place what is THAT about? The US Govt thinks it is a sin too?
I do realllly appreciate your explaining your opinion and your views.
 
This is what I like about you, Mark, that you allow a view which is different than your own to be published here, in the spirit of respectful discussion.
 
I will preface by saying I am by far (as in, really far) a biblical expert. I was baptized Greek Orthodox and I was raised by my family in the spirit of strong christian values, but I grew up within a communist society and going regularly to church was not part of my upbringing. That being said I see many of the Bible's teachings and deemed sins as a way that early Christians guided their fellow believers so that survival and growth of their budding church was ensured. It may be a crass comparison and abysmally simplistic, but in the context of Christianity back when the Bible was taking shape, survival and growth meant not just missionary work, two men or two women cannot procreate and just as eating Trichinosis infested pork there goes growth and survival. But those times are far behind, Christianity is no longer a budding religion, it's followers evolved, history evolved and so did our values of humanity, love and spirit. Pork doesn't pose a survival threat and growth is far beyond an issue. I have to offer here a very personal opinion about a Biblical teaching which offers the “times have changed” excuse with total impunity. Yes, I'm talking about the deeply faithful christian mothers who cite God in refusing to “kill” their kids when told that eight fetuses are not biologically natural for the human species, not to mention horribly detrimental to the quality of life of some of those fetuses. I don't understand why the [Christian] church rallies behind them, when if it were for God they would have no kids at all.
How is adapting to the times not an issue when it comes to having eight kids God never intended on giving you, but when it comes to accepting the love of two men or two women committed to each other and to God is?
 
First thing, the issue at hand is really homosexual acts or behaviour and not orientation. The idea of sexual oreintation is never addressed by the Biblical writers, or anywhere, in the earliest days of the Christian Tradition. The idea of sexual orientation is a modern psychological construct.

So, we are talking about sexual acts and which are "natural" to use the English translation of St. Paul's argument in Romans. Now, to be fair, the Bible does speak of sexual acts in the Old and New Testaments. Interestingly, the OT never speaks against female homosexual acts, but only against male homesexual acts. This probably reflects the narrative voice of the Jewish male priests who were inspired by God to write, collect, and edit the traditions which we now have in the Christian Church as our Old Testament.

The late Peter Gomes, American Baptist Pastor, sometime Republican, and celibate homosexual, made an intriguing argument in his interpretation of Romans 1. Essentially, he concluded that homosexual acts are unnatural for heterosexuals, but heterosexual acts are equally unnatural for homosexuals. Perhaps, his exegisis is not good, but I will leave that to all of you.

One of the key issues to me seems to be authority. How do we read the Bible, who interprets the Bible, and applies its messages.

Liberals seemed to be perenially interested in issues of equality, predicated upon their notions of a just society. Compassion and justice are indeed integral to such a society. Yet, on the other hand does it do anyone justice to pretend that all loving relationships are the same and serve the same social good?

St. Paul, in his time, like Jesus before him, certainly knew of loving and committed homosexual relationships. But, both, broadly speaking, accepted heterosexual marriage as the norm for society, even if neither personally embraced it (sorry Dan Brown fans).

This is why to me, I suuport the idea of civil unions. When it comes to the church or synagogue, let each one decide which relationships it will or will not bless.

Some conservative Chrisitians, not all but some, demonize families that do not conform to the one man, one woman, plenty of kids, model. They are attempting to hold onto a patriarchal past. That is what it is. They do so because they believe that Western civilization depends upon it.

Many liberals, not all but many, are so intoxicated with their vision of equality, that they do not see the forest for the trees. All people should be treated fairly, and with compassion, but it does no one any good to pretend that all relationships or all people are exactly the same.

Maybe, what we need is a civil institution which honors the human dignity of all persons, regardless of their sexual orientation, but does not pretend that lesbian, homosexual, and heterosexual unions are exactly the same, because they are not.

Perhaps, we can see that they are different but not less in term of the social good they produce.

Just some thoughts.

God Bless you all, regardless of your position.

Merry Christmas.

Scott Davis
 
I also love Prof. Osler's willingness to listen to other points of view, especially when he doesn't agree with them.

Mr. Bufkin, I agree with you on this issue. Well said.
 
I'm not going to comment at length, because I have said my piece already. I will just make three short points.

First, on judging and love and sin... I do have to judge the sins that are my own. I should not judge the sins of others, according to the teaching of Christ. That is the core of my disagreement with Bryan. Is being gay a sin? It doesn't matter-- I'm not gay, so I don't need to resolve that. It isn't my place to then judge others. I DO have plenty of my own sins I am well aware of, and I need to turn to those before trying to correct anyone else. Again... wasn't Jesus's teaching on that much clearer than his teaching on sexuality?

Second, I don't think there is such a thing as loving judgment (except by God). We are called to judge ourselves, to evaluate our own sins, not those of others. If we see judging others as our task, it pulls away from loving, inevitably. The two acts are in tension. Maybe that is why Jesus taught repentance, not judgement, as our proper role within a community.

Third, why is it we would exclude sinners from worship, if that's what they are? No one could be there! Consider two sins Jesus was very clear about-- not keeping the sabbath, and remarriage after divorce. I'm guessing that Bryan's church is full of people who have committed those sins. Why is it you are focusing on gays, then? Isn't it, by your view, just as loving to confront and judge the remarried and those who work on Sundays? But... we don't, and that is telling. We love the remarried, we love the non-observant (even as they continue those actions), and we should love our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters in Christ among us as we worship. We all are complex in our relationship with God. Let's all walk together.
 
I just spent a considerable time distracting myself from studying Employment Law by writing a lengthy comment most of whose points Prof. Osler stated much more succinctly and articulately in his last comment. I will spare everyone the redundancy and offer only one thought: If we treat the translation Mr. Bufkin chooses of his proof text as authoritative does it make any more sense to assume the term “homosexual offenders” is inclusive of all homosexual actors than it does to assume the term “the sexually immoral” earlier in the same sentence is inclusive of all sexual actors?
 
Just after I read this post, I had the privilege of attending worship at a Conservative synagogue (a friend's daughter's Bat Mitzvah was part of the service).

The sanctuary was filled with old men in prayer shawls; young men in dark suits and yarmulkes (one with a Green Bay Packers theme); mothers with kids crawling on their laps. One such mother was cradling a little boy who was profoundly disabled; she was tenderly kissing his hair as she wiped drool from his face.

The prayers were sung in Hebrew. No one needed books or music--everybody sang along. The lovely sound washed over me and rose up to God. The miracle of it struck me: God heard every one of those prayers. God heard the silent prayers of each human heart, not just from that congregation, but the whole world over, billions of voices, in every language, all at once. God is that vast, powerful beyond our comprehension.

What can my response to that be but utter humility? Can I say with certainty what is in the mind of God, make pronouncements about who is in and who is out of reach of God's blessing?

A God who loves us so much that he gave his only Son to live among us and die for us--who loves the little boy and the old men and the mother and all of us in our messy humanity--what can our response be but to love one another? To always, on every question, err on the side of love?
 
I agree with tydwbleach thought process on the governments role.

I do not think a secular government has the moral authority to regulate intimate human behavior. Or that in a diverse secular society, any one group should be holding sway over the rest based on theological grounds. Though to be fair to Bryan, I don't think he has said anything about the public policy side of this.

Personally, I think a more libertarian approach makes for the best public policy, because it best advances the good of the whole community, particularly when it comes to things like adoption, and spouses making legal and medical decisions for each other. Interestingly enough, a libertarian approach also dovetails with a conservative view on freedom, and religious freedom in particular. Arguably, if two Christian homosexuals, or Buddhists or anything else for that matter, wanted to get married on religious grounds, the State's denial is not just an issue of freedom in general, but an issue of religious freedom. (Would that be a new way to challenge the constitutionality of one-man, one-women laws? I have no idea.)

There are a host of practical advantageous which marriage facilitates that ought to be extended to any two human beings who want to marry. And not just for their sake. The whole community is better off when we have a single straightforward way of dealing with similar situations. (Two loving adults sharing life, possibly with their children.)

A two or three track, marriage/civil union/cobbled legal arrangement (i.e. adopting one anther's kids when neither marriage or civil unions are available) is just bad and inefficient public policy.

Additionally, it smacks of the "separate but equal" arguments of a previous generation's civil rights fight. Human beings with equal rights ought to be treated equally. And while I know many would disagree, I think that is a position one can agree with even if they are unsure of the spiritual or theological implications of homosexuality.

What are your thoughts on the government/public policy side of the debate Bryan?
 
No one is attempting to force churches to marry any two people! The civil rights issue is one of secular legal proceedings that guarantee any two persons the same legal rights as any other two persons.

Why this is perceived as a great moral struggle against 'SIN' escapes me. I would be among the first to defend the right of any religious group to refuse to perform their sacred rites for non-believers. I do not accept their attempts to force their beliefs on others.

Lee
 
Prof. Osler,

From what I have heard, when you served as a prosecutor you were one of the more thoughtful, respectful and humble people in that role. Arguably, you exuded loving judgement. However I suspect you may want to draw a sharp distinction between serving as an agent of the State and living in community with one's fellow Christian sojourners.

Thoughts?

Maybe serving in that role, understandably makes you more certain then ever that loving judgement is an impossibility?

What is your thought process if we set homosexuality aside and frame a conversation on loving judgement by looking at something universally abhorrent?
 
In Shakespeare's Merchant of Venice, Antonio speaks to Bassanio (friend of Antonio, suitor of Portia): "The devil can cite Scripture for his purpose."

The bible is a text about god, not human sexuality. And whether the church chooses to abridge the religious rights of those who act openly on an innate tendency is its prerogative--its member's prerogative, besides. But I don't think selectively quoting and narrowly interpreting certain bible passages is particularly useful. Many Christians I know have often condemneed behavior actually endorsed by biblical text when it is performed, say, by a small Muslim village in Iran. Stoning, of course, comes to mind...

It is not the belief, but the selectivity of application that bothers me the most.
 
Prof. Osler, I have tremendous respect for you as always, and particularly for the way you have handled this exchange.

I wanted to respectfully question your proposition that you need never "judge" the sin of another person. Jesus taught that we are not to "judge" (Matthew 7) and he also taught on how to help those who have sinned (in Matthew 18). What then does Christ mean by "judge"? Does Christ mean we should never judge as in "evaluate" or "discern" or does He mean that we shouldn't judge as in "condemn" or judge hypocritically?

The Matthew 18 passage seems to require at least some sort of evaluation or discernment of sins in others. Brian also pointed out several other New Testament passages that seem to require Christians and the church to evaluate whether conduct is sinful.

So where does that leave us on Matthew 7's injunction against "judging"? Christ cannot mean that we never evaluate or discern because that meaning is precluded by other scripture passages. I've come to believe that "judge" here has more to do with condemnation or hypocritical judgment. I believe that's why Christ also talks about removing the beam from one's eye before removing the speck from another's eye. However, Christ still calls on us to help remove the speck from another's eye, but only after dealing, or at least beginning to deal with our own "logs" and problems and sins.

Now, I do think you are correct in that the main focus of our time should be dealing with our own sins. I need to spend more effort on this, and you have (perhaps inadvertently) convicted me of not making my owns sins my first priority.

Now, I'm not suggesting we make a practice of roaming around evaluating whether people are sinful everywhere we go. Frankly the answer would be always be yes, including in my own home. At this point, I'm just advocating that there is a time and place for evaluating whether another person is sinning or not. If another is caught in unrepentant sin, a believer might need to (gently, emphasis on gently) help them.

A more specific example might be a new Christian dealing with sexual urges for children who has (sadly) acted on those urges in the past. Even though another person in the church might not have those urges, it would be appropriate for that other believer to evaluate whether that past conduct was sinful, and seek to both (1) protect the children in the church from the possibility of a relapse, and (2) love the new believer by helping him find a job and supporting him through his therapy. Each of those steps require discerning whether past conduct is sinful, and helping the new believer not to engage in that destructive behavior again.
 
Cody--

Excellent point about Matthew 18, which I think offers the toughest rejoinder to my initial argument to judge only our own sins. (For those of you just joining us, in Matthew 18:15-17, Christ advises that if someone is sinning we should follow this process: first address it privately, then in a small group, then within the church, then finally to treat them as a tax collector).

I usually am a literalist about the direct teachings of Christ, but I struggle with this one in the scenario you describe-- the Jerry Sandusky case. If I come upon him raping a child, I am probably unlikely to talk to him privately. I'm going to stop him and call the police. The Christian imperative, at most, might stop me from going Ndamakong Suh on him right there.

In most cases though, I think Christ's process would deter the kind of judging I am talking about. It steers people away from back-door gossiping and right to talking to the person. It also is going to cut against judgmental busybodies. Here is how-- imagine that you have found that someone in your church is committing a sin Jesus talked about, such as not respecting the Sabbath or being remarried after divorce.

When you go to a few others and say "Prof. Osler was seen grading papers on a Sunday!" the two you go to or the church as a whole is going to treat you as odd. Same if you take off on the woman who divorce an abuser and remarried. You will probably be told, "We really aren't going to mess with that, Mr. Nosey." And that is sending you right to where I want you-- back to the log in your (my) own eye.

Or, to the case in point, what if you discover that Nan and Barbara, longtime church members, have been in a committed lesbian relationship for 22 years. Detecting sin, you rush to them first, and they admit it. Then you go to the church for further sin-correcting. People will look at you and say, "Nan and Barbara? We love them! Butt out, Mr. Nosey."

In many (though not all) cases, the process Christ describes will deter judgment of others by telling us what NOT to do-- which is to publicly condemn and bar those we judge as a matter of first, or second, or third recourse... the same kind of deterrence we see in John 8 when Jesus doesn't tell the executioners not to kill the sexual sinner... just that the person without sin should throw the first stone. He establishes a process that sends us to the right result, consistent with his other teachings, which is to love rather than judge.
 
I want to make it clear that I completely agree that this is just a sub-issue within how a church should be run according to the Bible. The love and sacrifice of Jesus is the main point for this discussion, and that should be our focus. As Cody points out, most of our time should be spent evaluating ourselves, and our focus should not be on roaming around telling others about their sins. I agree with everything Cody points out. I was making this particular point based on a response to Professor Osler. Now, Professor Osler, I will stand my by original points, as I’m not sure that your points respond to mine (I never argued for anything called “loving judgment” (in fact, I’ve never heard of that until your response), I never argued about excluding anybody from a church, I didn’t just focus on gays (I was responding to your post on homosexuals, and my point was to treat that act like any other sin, including the two that you referenced), etc.). I just want it to be clear that the only reason why I posted this was because there are other Christians who read the Bible to require certain discernments of other behaviors among believers, and it’s encouraged in the Bible. I was defending those in churches who were being attacked for following those passages in the Bible. I never argued for any process of going public with the sin or banning anybody. I was simply addressing whether sinful acts should be blessed at the altar or whether un-repenting people should be leaders within a church. The issue has little to do with homosexuality and more to do with how “love” and “judging” are defined (as a side note, I did not title this “Another View: Gays and Lesbians and Churches.” I think that is quite overbroad for what I wrote). I will stand by the arguments that I’ve made, and I hope that they can be read in the context that they were intended.
David, thanks for noticing the limited nature of my post. My goal was to defend the church on two specific issues, and that was all. I have my personal political opinions on the role of government on that issue, but the Bible doesn’t specifically address the issue, so I don’t feel the need to comment on my personal opinion here.
 
Bryan, I don't think Jesus encouraged "discernments of other behaviors among believers," because that is judging others. Jesus expressly, and repeatedly, discouraged that. I think that is important.

In my sermon, what I described at length, and disagreed with, was Baylor's total exclusion of gays and lesbians, and you defended that. This is about exclusion, and always was. If you think Baylor should change its policy, you should clarify that. If you re-read the sermon, I think that is pretty clear.

It's absolutely true that I wrote the title for the post! If you want something else, I can change it. (Boy, I wish I could get that from some of my editors!).
 
This is the best dialog on homosexuality and Christianity that I have ever read. It must be possible to debate without turning off the other guy's microphone. Shame on me for not seeking out this type of discussion sooner.

If it used to be like this, I could see why why olden-time debates drew spectators.

Could the entire debate be wrapped up as: "What is the proper response to sin?" Am I over-generalizing?
 
Timmy, that's most of it. Obviously, Bryan is convinced that being gay is sinful in a way that I am not convinced, but that isn't at the center of it.

Given that I probably can't change the mind of people who are convinced of that, my key question is this: why treat gays and lesbians differently than those who are divorced and remarried, or those who don't observe the Sabbath?
 
Bryan and Mark, I appreciate and respect this public dialogue. And Bryan I respect how you have respectfully stated you position. I am late in commenting after a busy weekend.

I am the friend that invited Mark to preach his sermon at our church as part of a series of Sundays focusing on same-gender blessing … as our parish moves towards gaining approval from our Diocese to perform same-gender blessings. Our Bishop is supporting parishes that want to go forward with same-gender blessings (7 churches have already gained approval), while our Bishop is also supporting and honoring those parishes that choose not to do so.

Bryan, given that you believe … “that engaging in homosexuality is a sin based on (your) understanding of the Bible” … and “it is hard to argue that there isn’t at least a solid foundation in the Bible for this belief. It is mentioned throughout the Bible, including in the New Testament.” … what you argue makes great sense. I do not, however, agree with the premise of your argument.

I disagree with you about your understanding of the bible, and more so, I would argue the bible does not offer a “solid foundation” with regard to this issue. I would agree, such as the verse from Corinthians that you cited, that there are a number of bible verses that to one degree or another make reference to this issue. At the same time, I would argue that to take those verses out of their temporal and cultural context, is a misreading of those verses. More so, the Bible is full of contradictions and inconsistences. The scholarship in this regard is at best equivocal. And I love that. In many ways I love the fact that we have two very different creation stories and that we have Gospels with often very differing accounts of Christ’s ministry … and I love that they are all a part of the same canon. What a wonderful, messy, often confounding mystery. To whatever degree God had a hand in all this, it strikes me there is both great humor and great wisdom in the way it challenges us to struggle with what it means to be Christian. There are few, if any, unambiguous study guides to any of this stuff.

And I too struggle with issue of Christianity and judgment. The Gospels give numerous examples of where Christ calls others on their behavior, as Byron points out in Christ’s admonition to the prostitute. From another perspective, church communities often struggle with setting boundaries and they are often apprehensive to say “no.” As a psychologist, I am very aware of the damage that can be wrought by unboundaried, unregulated behaviors. Not everything goes. I do not, however … in a Christian sense … have all this figured out. I agree with Mark about where he has gone with this; I too am not in a potion to toss stones.

Specific to this issue, I believe God loves my gay/lesbian brothers and sisters as deeply as any heterosexual member of my parish and that God loves and celebrates their committed unions (and the loving expression of such … loving sex) as much as any heterosexual union. I think about this each Sunday when we celebrate communion as a community as we face each other in a half-circle at God’s table. All are welcome. In the end, for me, it all comes back to the first two commandments … and the rest is a mystery for us to struggle with.

Finally, as Peter Gnomes pointed out here in Richmond last spring, not long before he died … the real issue for the church is not homosexuality, rather, it is sex and sexuality. That is another conversation.

Thanks Bryan and Mark.
 
Well- you're "given" was wrong at the beginning of your argument. Homosexuality is not a sin.
Kathy Hibbs
 
Scott Davis, beautifully said!!!!
Kathy Davis Hibbs
 
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