I’ve heard it said that the only thing that makes the good old days good is a bad memory. Maybe so, but today I’m longing for the good old (and early) days of the church, when things were just getting started, where there were clear lines of authority, and all you had to do if you had a question about proper doctrine was gather the apostles together in some city and talk it out until you knew what “seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us” (Acts 15–read the whole thing). Today, the apostles are gone, and unless you believe the pope is their replacement (I don’t), it’s hard to know who, if anyone, is the authority on heresy. Remember the hullabuhloo over Rob Bell’s vision of hell? Lots of opinions, but no one with the authority to decide anything, so the church just retreated to its own little splintered camps and either praised or villified Bell.
We have so many denominations and non-demontional denominations today, I couldn’t begin to name them all. That’s not all bad. Variety is the spice of life. But can’t we all get together over doctrine, at least the important matters? And how does any group who can’t decide what it believes go forward proclaiming truth?
This is a long intro into my latest frustration over the Church’s homosexual confusion. So many viewpoints, and no one to say who’s right. Every group, of course, thinks it’s right. Most groups claim the Bible as proof that they’re right. But they can’t all be right. Consider the mixed messages the church universal sends gay people, Christian and otherwise. (These are GROSS generalizations, I admit, but for the sake of discussion …)
The Southern Baptists: Homosexuality is a sin. Gay marriage is wrong. Gay ministers are not allowed. The Bible is the authority.
The Episcopal Church: Homosexuality is NOT a sin. Gay unions may be blessed. Openly and happily gay ministers may serve in the church. The Bible is revered and quoted verbatim in each service.
The Presbyterian Church, U.S.A: They’re not sure. They’ll leave it up to the churches, an approach that sounds more Baptist than the Baptists’.
I hope I have fairly accurately represented these positions. If anyone from one of these denominations feels I misrepresented the general position of their sect, let me know. I’m not an expert in these matters. This is simply what I gather watching the news coming out of these denominations’ conventions.
If all of these people could at least agree that homosexuality is not so grievous as to send a person careening toward hell, I might be a bit less frustrated. But even that seems beyond us, at least for now. Take the recent NPR story on evangelicals’ split over reparative therapy to cure homosexuality. People who should be on the same side apparently are no longer. Alan Chambers, who leads Exodus, the world’s largest so-called ex-gay ministry, has altered his view somewhat in the last year. After years of preaching the possibility of change through conversion therapy, Chambers now admits that “99.9 percent” of people have not been straightened out, so to speak. He now argues for celebacy, believing that acting on homosexual desires would be sinful, though he also seems to believe that entering a gay relationship is not going to render void a person’s relationship with Christ. In the article, Chambers says, referring to salvation,
“I believe that once someone knows Christ that they have an irrevocable relationship, that if someone has a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ, that God’s bigger than removing something at the first sign of trouble.”
But New Testament professor Robert Gagnon of Pittsburg Theological Seminary calls the new Exodus position “extreme,” arguing that therapy “will work for some people” (though who these gays-made-straight are, and why the largest ex-gay organization in the world can’t find them, remains a mystery) and that homosexual behavior could have eternally negative consequences. Gagnon, a man with a most unfortunate name, says,
“The problem is, you can’t assure people that are engaged in serial, unrepentant sin of an egregious sort that they’re going to be in heaven.”
It really is enough to make a guy bipolar. Two leaders in the church who ought to be fast allies can’t even agree on whether something sends a person to hell. Imagine what that does to the psyche of gay Christians within the church, especially adolescents. This is a recipe for depression, self-hatred, and chronic fear. Who can blame the gays who run out the door and never come back? Not only can we not agree on whether homosexuality is a sin–churches are all over the place on this–we can’t decide how serious a sin it might be. I’ve had pastors on both sides of the sin debate assure me Gagnon is wrong on the salvation point. After all, if you can be damned by sin you didn’t realize was sin because the church couldn’t decide if it was sin, then isn’t that the inverse of saying you can be saved by sin avoidance? And isn’t that really salvation by your own righteousness, not Christ’s? And wouldn’t that make Christ of no value (Galatians 5:2), putting you at odds with the very gospel Gagnon espouses?
Nevertheless, it’s hard to move forward with confidence when you see good points on both sides of the argument, and when the consequences for a wrong decision, depending on who you listen to, are so dire. I see more wisdom, more truth, more scripture, more love, and more reason on the side of accepting gay relationships, but I could simply be wrong. What then?
This is a blog post without a resolution because the church has no resolution, not yet anyway. Maybe in 50 or 100 years, we’ll all get together on this one, but by then, will anyone even still be listening to us?