A Way Forward on Same-sex Attraction

Seeing the Unseen

As I Was Saying is a forum for a variety of perspectives to foster faith-related conversations among our readers with the goal of mutual learning, even in disagreement. Apart from articles written by editorial staff, these perspectives do not necessarily reflect the views of The Banner.

Is it possible for two people who hold different views on an issue to sit beside each other in church and be in unity? 

Yes—this is another article about same-sex attraction. And the question you are now asking is, “Is this guy for or against same-sex relationships and marriages?”

Probably “for or against” isn’t the best terminology, but if you asked me if I think the Bible is in favor of same-sex marriage, I would say I don’t believe the Bible allows for it.

Now you either like me or think I’m wrong. Either way, I hope you will keep reading. And here is why: because I am hopeful that as followers of Christ we can find a way forward. Even if we disagree about whether the Christian Reformed Church in North America should be a Side A or a Side B denomination.

What is Side A or Side B?

Side A churches allow same-sex marriage/committed monogamous relationships.

Side B churches do not allow same sex marriage/committed monogamous relationships.

Various denominations and churches have read and studied and discussed whether or not the Bible allows for same-sex marriage. There are other articles that explore the relevant texts, and generally those on opposing sides of the church aisle load their guns with ammunition and fire away. It is not my goal to shoot anyone today.

Maybe I’m an idealist and listened to John Lennon one too many times, but what I would like for all of us to consider is whether we can still be unified as followers of Christ even if we disagree on this issue.

So I will dream for a moment and lay out two guidelines I think might help us achieve that reality.

  1. Humility. As I stated earlier, I believe the Bible does not allow same-sex marriage. I also recognize there are things I thought in the past that I have since realized I was wrong about. There were positions I held and arguments I made that today I would not speak about in the same way. I am only one person, and I desire to be a humble person. I believe that means I can hold a view but I should hold it with humility that says, “This is what I believe and understand. I might be wrong.”
  2. Respect. What I believe is more important than my biblical exegesis and cultural understanding is that the Bible instructs us to ‘treat one another as you would want to be treated” (Luke 6:31). When I think about that in this context, I believe it helps give the right scale to the issue. Because we live in an over-sexualized culture, we have inflated this issue to be a defining mark of a person. A person is not defined by their sexuality. This is but one small piece of who God made the person to be. One small part of their character, giftedness, and God-given abilities. By inflating this issue, we state that because this person has a different belief about sexuality than I do, we must close the door to that person. Is it possible that from a position of humility and respect we might be able to say, “I understand we hold a different understanding of this issue, but my love for God and my love for his people is greater than this one issue. Now, together, let’s find a way forward.”

What does this mean practically? Can I worship beside a gay couple even when I disagree with them? Can I take communion and pass the tray to a lesbian couple? If they honestly believe they are living within God’s design, do I have the right to say, “No you’re not” and refuse to break bread with them?

In the past we’ve made decisions that put boundaries on the grace of God. “If you are living common law, then you are outside of God’s boundaries.” “Have you married someone who is divorced? Then you cannot be a member.” Does it make us better followers of Jesus if we put limits on his grace and in judgment apply our understanding of truth into someone else’s life?

John tells us that Jesus came and lived among us full of grace and truth (1:14). I have looked into the eyes of 80-year-olds who still carry the pain and hurt of judgments that were made on them 30-40 years earlier when someone else’s truth was applied and grace was left outside the door of the church.

Can we, as followers of Christ, hold what we believe to be true and yet extend abundant grace to those with whom we disagree?

About the Author

John Wildeboer is pastor of Rehoboth CRC in Bowmanville, Ont. Husband to Grace, father to Jason, Charis, and Michael.

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Comments

It seems to me this article downplays the difficulty of the question it discusses.  If finding a "way forward" has only the implication that you are willing to "take communion and pass the tray to a lesbian couple," it seems pretty easy to find a "way forward." But that hardly represents the question to be asked or possible answers to be given.

Here's the more realistic question: can congregational members who do not condone homosexual relationships (in marriage or otherwise) accept the election as elders and deacons those (gay or not) who believe that, all other things being equal, homosexual sex is as good and righteous and blessed by God as heterosexual sex, and that the children of the church should be taught that, e.g.,  in the young peoples group when the leader (or pastor) leads that series of discussions about sexuality with the church's high schoolers?  

Or, when the pastor has that infrequent sermon about marriage and sexuality generally, should the pastor suggest heterosexual and homosexual are equally righteous choices?

The question for any church will never only be whether to pass the communion plate to a lesbian couple.  The question will always -- always -- become whether the church, as a church, should bless homosexual relationships and declare them to be just as God-glorifying as heterosexual relationships (again, all things being equal).  And then also teach that to the church's children and young people and adults as well.

And frankly, the same questions apply to other sexual relationships: swinging, open marriage, polyamory, etc.  And to whether "gender" is a choice to be made as one exercises his/her individual freedom to be his or her self.  These are not "slippery slope" hypotheticals.  These are current options that some (many) in our broader society , including some who declare themselves Christian, consider open questions, answerable only be individuals in whatever way they may choose to answer. 

It may be that this is more a question about extreme individualism in the church than it is simply about homosexuality.  Should the church ever refuse to bless decisions by individuals to be and do what they decide to be and do?  After all, we have been 'wrong before,' not?  Given that, how can the church ever second guess anyone's decision about how they should live?

Dear Banner, Your preamble in which you wash your hands of responsibility for these views doesn't convince me for some reason. Regarding the article, I'm all for humility. It seems that by this article we can be more humble than the author's of Scripture who were guided by the Holy Spirit to write what they did.

Once again I find myself grateful to the Banner for their willingness to publish thoughts which may push and stretch the denomination in important ways.  Thank you John for your words.  I may disagree with where you stand, but I appreciate your willingness to respectfully and humbly engage.

This is the author's inner Beatles speaking out, "All you need is love". Christ says otherwise, " If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father's commandments and abide in his love." John 15

Thanks, Doug, for your comment and restructuring the vital question that the church must answer in regard to homosexual behavior.  I think you may be right in suggesting that the question is more than who am I willing to associate with.  I would guess that many people who do not condone homosexual behavior will still befriend and associate with such people.  Wildeboer is simply asking, can I fellowship with people who believe and act differently than what I believe or how I act?  As you suggest, Doug, the question should be more a matter of what do we believe together as a church, what do we together as a church teach our members, and how do we allow our members in good standing to live in regard to sexual behavior?
I imagine, for you Doug, the answer is pretty simple.  The Bible does not condone homosexual behavior, whether in marriage or out, in fact forbids it.  Therefore such behavior should not be tolerated by church members.  That may or may not have implications for differing sexual behaviors.  But the question for now pertains to homosexuality.
For me the issue pertains to the rigidity of the Bible’s mandate in regard to sex.  It seems to me that the Bible was written in a cultural context very different from ours today and would likely speak differently today to a variety of issues.  Our church has reinterpreted the Bible’s teaching on marital divorce or women having authority over men, different from what the Bible literally teaches. Our standard has changed.
I think the larger issue, in regard to sexual behavior, in the Biblical culture, was a matter of commitment to God.  Typically, people who did not honor God showed it by a variety of self serving behaviors. But today in a completely different culture, it is entirely possible to be a female pastor or elder, or to have experienced a divorce and serve on the church council, or to be and have a committed homosexual relationship while expressing a full commitment to God.
The teaching of the church for its youth and members would then be that heterosexual relationships may be the norm within marriage, but that does not exclude homosexual relationships within marriage.  The norm does not necessarily exclude all other possibilities. What the church looks for and hopes for in its members is a complete commitment to God first and foremost.

Thanks for your thoughtful reply to my comment Roger.

Here's where I think we might depart from each other in our analyses.  You suggest that if the church accepted homosexual relationships, it might be on that: "The teaching of the church for its youth and members would then be that heterosexual relationships may be the norm within marriage, but that does not exclude homosexual relationships within marriage."  I have considered that kind of approach but ultimately have concluded it just doesn't work.  My reason is that it declares fully open the door that enters other rooms, that of "swinging," "open marriage," "polyamory," for that matter, "bestiality."  I expect some who are further down the road of "sexual progressive thinking" might say, "well yeah, and what is wrong with any of that?" and explain further, "urges are urges, the real question is whether, as you suggest in your comment, "members [have] a complete commitment to God first and foremost."

The other conclusion, which I have come to, is that "urges aren't simply urges," that Scripture does in fact forbid the satisfaction of many urges, whether those urges are generated by hormones that generate sex drive, or the crave to eat too much, or the crave to hurt ourselves or others, or -- well, the list can get very, very long.  The other conclusion calls for individual people to sometimes "deny themselves," to "take up their cross," and about a lot of things.  Of course, the question then may become whether sexual behaviors are within that category of actions that people may be obliged to "deny to themselves."  I think they are.  And I think that if one concludes they are not, one must conclude they all are not.

BTW, this applies to other "sinful behavior" as well.  I may have a high inclination to accumulate for myself more and more material things in life because I just love accumulating things, or to eat to the point of obesity just because I love the taste of food, or to drink to excess because I enjoy the freedom of intoxication, or to pick on others for being ugly because I enjoy feeling superior, etc etc.  I see all of these as "urges" the satisfaction of which we are called to deny ourselves, even if denying some of them, or others of them, will be more difficult for some people than others.

Now if the question is merely can I respectfully co-exist with others who have decided that homosexual practice (or eating to the point of obesity or accumulating things without limit) are urges they may righteously satisfy?, my answer aligns with the author of this article: yes I can, and I think very few people would answer differently  (and in my own real life, I do).  But, as I've suggested, that's not the real question that the church is called to answer at this point.  And we should be careful not to think that answering this article's question (can we respectfully live together?) in the affirmative does not mean the real question (what should the church teach and require of members) should be similarly answered.

       Once again Doug, thanks for your response.  You have put considerable thought and length into your comment which is appreciated.  But I still have some questions or doubts in regard to your concerns.  I think your “slippery slope” argument might have some problems.  I understand your concern or question of ‘what comes next?”  But there is not a natural progression from one sexual behavior to the next sexual behavior.  People who have heterosexual tendencies don’t have homosexual tendencies, nor do those who are homosexual have child sexual abuse tendencies. Nor do those who have a marital homosexual relationship have interests in swinging, just as those who are in a heterosexual marital relationship don’t have swinging tendencies or bestiality inclinations.  These different sexual behaviors that you list are not somehow connected and therefore one such behavior will lead to another.  Nor should they be considered together, as though they all come out of the same pot.  So homosexual relationships and behaviors should be the single issue before the church at the present time or in the present discussion.
   
       The other concern I have is in regard to your suggestion that “urges aren’t simply urges,” and that Scripture does forbid many urges people have.  If you take a closer look at the list of urges you suggested, they are all urges if followed through on would be harmful to oneself or to others (eating too much, hurting oneself or others, materialism, drinking to excess, picking on other people).  I’m sure we could add many other tendencies or urges people could have that would be harmful and therefor should be avoided.  But that is not the case for two people of the same sex who are in a marital relationship.  The risk for harm is no greater than for a heterosexual married couple. So I think your argument here falls short and misses the point you are trying to make.  So I go back to the argument I made in my previous comment.  Thanks, Doug.

Roger: To clarify, I was not suggesting there was any "slippery slope" for homosexual persons desirous of a monogomous relationship to want also to engage in "open marriage" or polyamory, etc.

I agree with your believing there is probably no "natural progression" from homosexual behavior to other forms of sexual behavior that the church has historically considered off limits.  But that was not my concern.  Rather, my concern was that if the church condoned homosexual behavior, it (the church) would next be challenged to condone "open marriage" and polyamory, etc, by those who have made and make essentially the same argument as those now advocating gay sexual relationships. 

Nick Wolterstorff has said, for example, that he doesn't see how gay marriage would violate the "law of love," and thus the church should allow it without ecclesiastical prejudice, as if it were equivalent to heterosexual marriage, and therefore cause to celebrate, not condemn or disapprove.  But if that is the measure for the church to use, how would the church deny members who wished to practice "open marriage," so long as the spouses both agreed of course; and indeed, they would say--and have said--that having other sexual relationships strengthens their marriage and so how is the "law of love" violated by "open marriage"?  And the same with polyamory or any number of other sexual/marriage practices. 

This is not a "slippery slope" argument that I'm making.  These arguments for these other alternate sexual/marriage practices coincide rather precisely with the arguments made in favor of gay sexual relationships.   There is no slope here, slippery or otherwise, but rather the same question and the same argument for the church to change its historic answer to the same question.

And finally, those wanting "open marriage" or polyamorous relationships would certainly maintain they are hurting no one else either, as your latest comment alludes to, and I'm not seeing how their non-injury claim is any different than the claim made for gay sexual relationships.  Thus, I think it is always necessary to ask, when deciding whether to support the church condoning gay sexual relationships, "would you also support these other sexual relationships?"  If one would, one should say so.  If one would not, one should explain why not--whatare the factors that cause the answers to be different in these other cases?

  

         Doug, thanks for the clarification on the matter of a slippery slope and whether certain behaviors are hurtful to oneself or to others and therefor should be avoided. 
       In the fact that the different sexual behaviors you listed are distinct and separate from each other, they would have to be considered separately by the church.  And it would be a matter for the church to decide which, if any, are acceptable to the church.  Like homosexual relationships and behavior has gone through the channels of church council, Classis, and finally Synod, the same would be necessary for each of the behaviors that you suggested.  Do you really think that such behaviors as open marriage, bestiality, or polyamory would even make it through the first channel of being approved by a church council, let alone by a Classis and finally Synod?  There might be individuals who would condone such behaviors for themselves, but they would never get such behaviors past the safety channels prescribed by our denomination.  As I see it they would be dead in the water from the get-go.    To my mind, your concern about other sexual behaviors (which you listed) being approved in our denomination is a non-starter.  So the matter at hand is that of homosexuality/homosexualism and nothing further.

Roger: My concern is that rationale dominantly put forward to declare homosexual sexual behavior as normative is the same rational that, if accepted, would justify "open marriage,"  "polyamory," etc.

You say you can't imagine the church would ever bless those other kinds of sexual relationships ("Do you really think that such behaviors as open marriage, bestiality, or polyamory would even make it through the first channel of being approved by a church council, let alone by a Classis and finally Synod?").  OK, I understand you can't imagine that, but it was not all that long ago that the same wouled have been said about the church blessing homosexual relationships.  Who would have imagined 50 years ago?

But again I would emphasize that it is the rationale, the way of getting to the conclusion, that I'm really concerned about.  This newly fashioned "law of love" rationale (as newly defined and implemented, seemingly for the focused purpose of blessing homosexual relationships) also blesses other sexualy relationships, e.g., "open marriage" and polyamory.  Indeed, I find it puzzling that the current stream of argument from CRCers is that homosexual relationships that are monogomous should by blessed by the church. Why the requirement of monogamy?  Who "gets hurt" in polyamory or "open marriage"? (OK, maybe I think people do get hurt but those who justify based on the "law of love" don't evaluate "get hurt" like I do).

In a way, I love your optimism, Roger, your firm confidence that the rationale being used by some churches right now to bless homosexual relationships won't later be used to justify other forms of sexual license.  But I'm not that optimistic.  Rather, I'm confident in the other direction.  And it's possible that neither you nor I will be alive when the simple logic of this rationale is extended.  But it is inevitable that it will be for evaluating other sexual relationships if adopted now to evaluate and bless homosexual relationships.  

Polyamory relationships have grown pretty rapidly in the US, but the numbers are still small (not to mention the political sentiment to normalize it, whether legally and/or culturally).  All it will take is that the numbers to increase some more, and it become a bit of a political force, and there will be articles by church people, like this article, suggesting we can "find a way forward," but then with the polyamorous group sitting next to you in church, or the couple that openly swings.  And if the timing is such that I'm still living when this happens, I suspect my response will be the same: certainly I can "fellowship" with those in that polyamorous group (properly defined), but I would say they ought not be "members in good standing" in the church, nor vote for officebearers, nor teach in Sunday School, nor be candidates for the church's offices.

I'm curious: what would you say then if still living?  Would you "say no" to polyamorous sexual relationships and "open marriage."

  

        Hey Doug.  You keep insisting that the same rationale that is used to justify homosexual behavior will be used to justify every other sexual behavior, whether polyamory, bestiality, swinging or whatever.  I don’t agree.  Just for starters, our church/denomination maintains that sexual behavior is only acceptable within the bonds of marriage.  That would be true for all and any sexual behavior.  Whereas, I can see how a homosexual relationship can be construed as a marriage (as has our government), I cannot fathom how these other sexual behaviors can be seen to exist within the bonds of a marriage or constituting a marriage (neither can our government). Even our government defines marriage as taking place between two people.  The argument or rationale to approve these other sexual behaviors would have to be entirely different to find approval by a church council, classis, and Synod.  So the rationale would have to be different for the church to approve such behaviors, contrary to what you are suggesting.
         So, Doug, I can fathom and approve of homosexual married couples being confessing members of our denomination (church).  But I certainly cannot say that for these other sexual behaviors.  When our church begins a process to condone such behavior for church members, I will have been long gone from such church, as I imagine would be true for you, as well.

Interesting to read the dialogue between Doug and Roger.  

I agree that should the church move to affirm same-sex marriages, it would still be a long way from affirming open marriages or polyamory.  What would happen however, is that the Biblical basis for prohibiting them would be removed.  If Scripture can be read to affirm same-sex marriage, it can be read to affirm polyamory. The very same exegetical moves can be employed.

If you remove the male-female binary for marriage, you can just as easily remove the "two-ness" of marriage. 

The real "next" issue for the church will be transgenderism.  If the male-female binary is removed as a basis for marriage, it can just as easily be removed as a basis for individual personhood.  For some reason the church isn't talking much about the trans issue. Roger suggest the only issue before us is marriage. Not so. The culture has settled the marriage issue, it's now all about trans rights.  And that most certainly will be the next part of the "slippery slope" (I don't like that term) for the church.

IMHO, grace-filled separation is the only appropriate way forward for our denomination.

       Thanks, Andrew, for adding your thoughts. I don’t think adding polyamory or swinging or any sexual deviant behavior to being acceptable would be as easy as you seem to suggest. Simply by removing the Biblical basis for prohibiting such behaviors would apply to any aberrant behavior, whether sexual or otherwise. It worked with women in office, and with removing restrictions on divorce. Maybe we could remove the seventh commandment and then we’d have nine, with a much more open understanding of sex. Or we could simply remove the eighth commandment and then we could steal what belongs to others. See, not quite so simple.

      Maybe you’re on to something though, Andrew. With the hundreds of church denominations on the Christian playing field, there is no end to how differently Christians interpret and read their Bibles. So, what’s another split and one more denomination. Two weaker denominations?

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