This blog represents the thoughts of the author. While it may reflect the theological position of The Renewal Fellowship, it should not be seen as an official statement.
In June 2019, General Assembly approved the following recommendation regarding Remits B and C – “That as a matter of urgency, the Life and Mission Agency provide a means for those affected by this decision to express their concerns, views and pain in a safe environment and that the concerns be reported back to the 2020 General Assembly before the report on remits is received and its recommendations considered.”
While the Feb. 15 deadline to file these expressions has passed, I am sharing my statement in an effort to encourage prayer for the following:
- that the members of the Life and Mission Agency tasked with the responsibility of sorting through all the responses will have the energy they need to consider each submission;
- that the LMA may consider making formal recommendations in addition to providing a summary of the responses; and
- that commissioners to GA 2020 will receive the Holy Spirit as they prepare.
To the Life and Mission Agency,
General Assembly in 2019 invited those “affected” by the remits to “express their concerns, views and pain.” While “concerns and views” are laudable, “pain” is powerful. As we are discussing nothing less than God’s revelation and our response as believers, pain is what I will share.
On Feb. 11, a presbytery moderator broke a tie vote over Remit C. It passed. It’s painful to see a moderator disregard the gracious and wise custom of casting a “no” vote in such situations. Further, it’s painful to know that in several presbyteries, support for Remits B or C have been decided by a single vote. It’s painful to see that the affirmative side carries the entire roll in the Barrier Act tally, and that the level of overall support for the remits does not accurately reflect the deep division in our courts and congregations.
It’s painful to see a denomination supposedly united under its confessions so divided over our world views and our hermeneutics.
Two weeks ago, a PCC minister attempted to shame me into submission by posting on Facebook a link to an article which suggested that those who are not allied to LGBTQ communities are homophobic and perpetuate hate. He singled me out, tagging me by name, in plain view for all of his friends and all of mine.
I don’t hate anyone. In fact, I genuinely love those who identify as LGBTQI. I am drawn to their humanity, their sensitivity, their love for one another and their sense of justice. I love their creativity.
I’ve been told that if only I got to know people who are living out their same-gender attraction, that I’d see their beauty and I would change my tune. They assume I live in a sheltered world and I’m not in touch. If only they knew.
A former colleague recently married her female partner. She is one of the most beautiful people I know. She took photos of my wedding and a few years later shot family pics for us on location in a woods. A few years ago, she and her female partner took me on a tour of their home. I felt the love they had and I couldn’t argue with it. I treat them the same as any other friend or acquaintance. Apparently, that’s not good enough for some critics.
If any threat came to someone as a result of their sexual orientation or lifestyle, I’d come to their defence. It is painful to know that those who act upon their same-gender attraction – and even those who don’t – have been subjected to discrimination, hatred and violence. It repulses me. I echo the gracious words in the February 2018 letter of repentance from the moderator to all those who have been harmed by homophobia and hypocrisy.
Therefore, to be lumped into the same category as those who hate is painful. And yet that’s what a significant number of those who are advancing the campaign to change PCC doctrine are doing. Material distributed at last year’s Affirm gathering at Knox Waterloo had the message that you cannot be neutral on the matter of full LGBTQ inclusion: unless you are able to march in the Pride Parade and be a vocal ally, then I am considered by some in the PCC to be homophobic.
In all honesty, a part of me wants to support same-gender romantic partnerships and bless their homes and applaud as they join hands and exchange rings. I want to be their ally and stand up for justice, march in the parade and even hang the rainbow flag. Seriously, I do.
But something is keeping me from doing that. It’s the knowledge, deep in my soul, that I would be disobeying God. Despite my comfort being in the presence of same-sex couples who clearly love one another the same way I love my wife, my soul does not allow me to celebrate the physical consummation of same-sex attraction.
I am torn and it’s painful. But I make the decision to obey God, not people.
And yet, despite all this, I still get labelled as homophobic and hateful. To be accused of something of which you are completely innocent is painful. Not in a biting way, but it’s a slow, dull ache, like an annoying hum that never goes away.
I understand why some PCC congregations wave the rainbow flag. But it’s painful to see photos of PCC congregants and ministers carrying “Presbyterian Pride” banners in the same parade as nearly-naked men wearing bondage attire. It’s a tacit acceptance of sexual idolatry.
It’s painful to know that some see me as legalistic and authoritarian. At heart, I am a libertarian. I have a fundamental suspicion of state and cultural control. In my younger days, I labelled myself as a “non-conformist.” I love the artistic spirit, the creative mind. But, as Bob Dylan sang, “Well, it may be the devil or it may be the Lord. But you’re gonna’ have to serve somebody.”
That’s the fundamental issue in my mind: who or what do we ultimately serve? It’s painful to acknowledge that some corners of the church are submitting to the enemy.
On the natural side of this issue, let’s talk about sex. Shouldn’t I want everyone to experience the beautiful gift of sexual union? Who am I to say that those who are same-gender attracted should not enjoy such pleasure? Why would God allow people to be so powerfully attracted to one another and not want them to act upon it?
My head and heart hurts as I churn those questions over.
As I am badgered to open my mind and soul to consider “covenanted same-sex marriage,” another question crosses my mind: “Could I be wrong?” I know many people who profess to follow Christ and have wrestled with the matter and eventually changed their tunes and no longer believe that same-gender sex is a sin. Many of them are beckoning me to do the same.
In fact, I was once open-minded. I used to believe that if it feels good and you’re not harming anyone, what’s the harm? Then, I had a spiritual awakening. All the Scripture and truth I had rejected since childhood suddenly, in my late 30s, made sense. “Wow,” I said to myself. “It’s all true. Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life.” Yes, He wants us to enter through the narrow gate. Jesus was dead-serious when He told us to “deny yourself, pick up your cross, and follow Me” and to “love God and love one another.”
The problem with progressive Christianity is that it hangs the bulk of its theology and practice on the love commandments and neglects the need for self denial. I point to Scripture: “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me” (Galatians 2:20). Love is not demonstrated by indulging in sensual activity. No, “Love means doing what God has commanded us.” (2 John 1:6, NLT)
Back to the question, “Could I be wrong?” I have gone to the cross in prayer more than once and said, “Lord, give me a sign. Lord, show me in that amazing way You speak to me.” I’ve been doing this now for years. The response I get is the peace of Christ when I am among those who share my Biblical hermeneutic and theology. At the same time, I am pained when I am watching worship led by those who say the Bible can be reinterpreted to fit our times, that Scripture would have been written differently today, that we’ve been reading it wrong – that the prohibitions against same-gender sex were not about “covenanted relationships between two consenting adults” but were aimed at the abuse of children and servants. And if something cannot be reinterpreted, that we simply ignore it.
While I accept that those who don’t know Christ might easily ascribe to the progressive social view (because the enemy has almost-full control over our culture in this fallen world), I have a hard time understanding how someone who has accepted Christ, who sees Him as the only way to God – as Scripture, reason, tradition, and experience attest – can turn their backs on what I see as God’s divine will for a fallen world.
I hold myself back at this point, knowing that I am potentially crossing a line. Romans 2:1 shouts at me: “You, therefore, have no excuse, you who pass judgment on someone else, for at whatever point you judge another, you are condemning yourself, because you who pass judgment do the same things.”
What am I to do? Love God, for sure. And love one other – no matter who they are and what they believe and what they do. I will continue to follow the commands of Christ and emulate His lifestyle as much as humanly possible in 21st century North American culture. This includes the command to deny myself, and the teaching in John 10:25 that “those who live their life in this world will lose it.” In the end, I hope to achieve that “rich and satisfying life” Jesus promised in John 10:10. The richness is in the fruits of the Spirit as I continue the process of sanctification – which is a lifelong process. The satisfaction is the peace that I get from knowing that if God is for me, nothing can be against me, that our triune God is more powerful than the enemy, and that the joy of living for Him outweighs any human pleasure.
While I feel the pain, I acknowledge that it’s not the same as the pain felt by people who are faced with coldness, hatred, and violence. It’s nothing compared to the anxiety and dis-ease felt by those who don’t fit into a heteronormative world.
I rose at General Assembly in 2019 to ask a question of clarification of the Rainbow Commission on the recommendation that Assembly reaffirm its stance against reparative and conversion therapy. I said, “We know that there are people who are same-sex attracted who have decided not to act on those desires, and they deserve and need pastoral counselling in order to support their decisions. My question to the mover of this recommendation: if this is adopted, would it prevent pastoral support for those in the LGB communities who want to remain celibate?” Their response was calm and reassuring, “No, it would not.”
However, the next speaker went on a tirade against conversion therapy. The implicit message was that even something as innocuous as pastoral support for celibacy might be seen as homophobic. It was aimed at me, and it was painful.
Several days later, I rose at presbytery to give my commissioner’s report. I referred to Remits ‘B’ and ‘C’ as “The Issue.” Another minister interrupted me mid sentence. It’s “not an issue,” she admonished. It’s about people, about lives, about relationships, about brokenness and hurt and violence and a great need to seek justice and inclusion and healing. Those weren’t her exact words, but that’s the gist of it. The moderator did not call for order; he allowed her to speak.
Being called out in public was unfair and painful. Knowing that the moderator was willing to put aside normal rules of decorum was troubling – and painful. My colleague’s assumption – that I was being clinical about something that I know is a very real pastoral and theological matter – was disappointing and painful.
This debate has dragged on for decades and haunted our consciousness to the extent that, collectively, we don’t have time for what’s most important. We are commanded to go into the world, to plant seeds of faith, to baptize and teach. Yet we are so consumed with social justice that we’ve forgotten the greater injustice that people are increasingly separated from God. How painful is that?
I don’t see parallel definitions of marriage and freedom of conscience putting this matter to rest – ever. It won’t put a lid on the debate and it won’t end the spiritual dis-ease. I believe it will simply be a matter of time before any “freedom of conscience” is challenged.
Some measure of pain relief will only come when we have freedom to believe and practice without interference from the other. Several new overtures will come to General Assembly 2020 that call for the creation of two streams of Presbyterianism, each with its own courts and polity which supports its own Biblical view. I urge commissioners to give serious consideration to such requests, for the good of the Kingdom.