Changing Our Minds (Back Again)

Well Eugene… You really caused a stir, ‘changing your mind’, only to not really change it at all.

All suspicion aside, if you were ever in doubt that this is the litmus test of orthodoxy in 2017 then this is a clear indicator. Get the ‘gay thing’ wrong and you’re history – no matter who you are.

I doubt Petersen has much interest in the actual ‘debate’ outside of dealing with real human beings – which is possibly why his initial response felt simple, clear, and affirming. He’s a pastor. But when it comes to the flip side of the conversation – the theological argey bargey, he realised he is still conservative. That’s my interpretation of what may have happened. I doubt the removal of his books by various stores would actually sway a person with real integrity. He answered some questions in one state of mind and then as he reflected and had push back he decided to change positions. I’ve done this plenty of times in conversation, on FB and on blogs, but my name is not Petersen and I don’t have his influence, so no one really cares.

But the hostility he experienced for the short time he ‘switched’ means this can never be an open and genuine conversation because too much is at stake.

Anybody wanna get ‘Petersened?’. Ummmmm… No thanks…

A couple of years ago I took off on holidays to Bali with 5 books, three advocating for an affirming approach to homosexual relationships and two of the conservative view. I wanted to really dig into this stuff and explore it – openly – to the point where I was prepared to come home and quit leading our church if it came to that (because I don’t think I could hold a progressive view and keep leading the same church – we aren’t ‘there’)

And as I read the books I felt myself warming to the tone and language of the progressive writers (Gushee, Venn Brown and Brownson), and I felt the pain they expressed both for themselves and for those who find themselves gay and struggling. And then, as I read the books by the conservative authors (names forgotten) I felt a harshness and theological wankerishness that made me want to distance myself from them. I really disliked the matter of fact approach that seemed to exude no pastoral compassion whatsoever.
But at the end of the day I just couldn’t see the progressive argument clearly in scripture. I read and listened, discussed and explored and some more, but it just didn’t gel with me.

Theologically I found myself still conservative. And in fact last week when I had to speak from Romans 1:18-32, the more I read the passage depicting the downward spiral of morality as people moved progressively (no pun intended) away from God, the more I became convinced of the conservative position – theologically…

But it leaves me with the pastoral dilemma. How to respond to gay folks, Christian or not in this time?

I really feel stumped by this as one who is unashamedly conservative theologically.

A friend posted on FB recently looking for a church in Perth fully accepting of gay Christians and I wanted to say ‘hey we could be those people’, because I’d like to be… But truth is we are not – and I am not.

And then I hear a phrase like ‘welcoming but not affirming’ to describe churches and I feel it reads like an oxymoron. Who will feel genuinely welcome while being unaffirmed in their sexual identity? I don’t think we can go that route and not think it will backfire.

Is it more honest to say ‘gay folks not welcome here’?..

But I really don’t want to say that either – (not because it’s a cultural faux past), but because that’s not even close to what I feel in my heart.

Perhaps Bill Loader’s approach is best – summarised, he would say ‘the Bible is clearly against homosexual relationships, but we are now in the 21st C so we need to ditch those teachings and accept that our new context requires new thinking’.

I find that argument more compelling than the re-interpretations that just haven’t been at all convincing in my opinion. My fairly ‘high’ view of the Bible prevents me from taking that route.

That said after 53 years of evangelicalism indoctrination maybe I am simply incapable of any fresh reading of scripture. Or maybe I am tied by my pastoral role and need of income to being unable to even conceive of a way other than the one I have always held.

I have no doubt those are real factors in my own processing of the question.

Then some would suggest that if we accept Jesus as the ultimate revelation of God and read all scripture ‘through him’ then he would surely be far more gracious, accepting and embracing than the conservative view seems to allow us to be, suggesting that maybe we need to go back and re-read the biblical text again. Jesus certainly wouldn’t behave like so much of evangelicalism in this regard.

My hunch is that somewhere between 10 and 50 years time this will be a non-issue – like divorce is today. Divorce was once in league with the ‘unforgivable sin’, (40-50 years back) but now it is accepted as inevitable and unfortunate, but generally not disqualifying in any way. I remember the days when divorcees couldn’t attend church, take communion, teach Sunday school and certainly not serve on leadership teams or as pastors.

I sense culture will move us (as the church) to acceptance of gay relationships as normative and that gay folks will be part of our churches just as straight folks are. I imagine it will happen incrementally, and maybe one day young people will look on us in our older years, perplexed at our curious and somewhat disturbing views on sexuality… that is, if we still hold them… because we are not immune to these forces either.

So – people have often asked me for my view on this subject and I have hesitated to give it, initially because I hadn’t done serious reading & reflection and then ironically because I had done the reading and reflection. Reaching a position of stability in my thinking only served to create new challenges and issues that I am still unable to resolve adequately.

I don’t know why some folks have known nothing other than a gay sexual orientation.

I don’t know how we help gay folks find faith and acceptance in Christian community.

And yet if someone walked into my church tomorrow I know my instinctive response would be to welcome them, hear their story and try to help them find a place of belonging… Aint that conflicted?…

So maybe Eugene felt a bit of that stuff going on over the last few days. Maybe he will change his mind again. Maybe I will too…

Either way let’s be a lot more gracious with one another as we try to process with integrity a theological, pastoral and cultural issue that currently seems to be bringing us undone in ugly ways.

If there is a greater and more significant ‘cosmic spiritual conflict’ going on – and our battle is not against flesh and blood then surely we have to see that in this time we are getting brought undone by our enemy as we attack one another and ‘fight for the truth’, meanwhile leaving all manner of carnage in our wake.

23 thoughts on “Changing Our Minds (Back Again)

  1. I reckon Eugene Petersen had a ‘Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day’ after he spoke those words. 🙂

    Frankly, I cannot accept that a Pastor who has spent decades pondering the meaning and recasting all of the words in the entire Bible was not exactly sure of his own theological bent (excuse my own pun) on this prominent issue when he was first asked the question.

    He clearly and unambiguously said “Yes”.

    And that is what we call a ‘CLM’ (career limiting move) in the Corporate world.

    I expect that he probably got a call from his Publishing company and their PR machine. There is much riding on this.

    Petersen’s pursuit of relevance has him bordering on New Age thinking at times in his MSG version.

    I might seem to lack compassion for Petersen but in terms of my own view on this very issue I will side with the position of Francis Chan:

  2. After reading this quote: “Perhaps Bill Loader’s approach is best – summarised, he would say ‘the Bible is clearly against homosexual relationships, but we are now in the 21st C so we need to ditch those teachings and accept that our new context requires new thinking’.” I thought ‘that’s exactly what the church has done with divorce, and a dozen or so other issues (money, women, smoking, drinking, all those weird Jewish rules about not mixing fabrics, etc.).

    Then you mentioned divorce as an example :p

    My working hypothesis is that homosexuality is the last ‘big moral issue’ that differentiates the church from us heathens. Once the church loses this then there’s no real difference.

  3. Hamo that is a beautifully articulated response to a debate where there is often more heat than light. It is essential that we are able wrestle our thinking out loud……

  4. Adam, I agree.

    Compromise the configuration and attributes of the definition of marriage then other configurations will follow including polyamory.

    It did not take long for the walls to fall in Columbia:

    “Colombia has become the first country to legally recognize the union of three gay men, where Manuel Bermúdez, Alejandro Rodríguez and Víctor Hugo Prada have united in a “special three-way patrimonial regime” in the city of Medellín”.


    • Good on them.

      It’s a bit rich for Christians to attack polyamory, after all how many highly esteemed biblical authors/characters had multiple wives? I can think of at least three off the top of my head, but I’m a bit rusty when it comes to Bible facts.

  5. Polygamy and poly-amorous relationships are different.

    Yes there were situations where there was polygamy in the Bible (Abraham, David Solomon) – but they were less than God’s stated model from Genesis to Jesus – and it ALWAYS ended in tears!.

    You cannot seriously be in the Church and endorse a ployamorous gay marriage Adam.

    • I don’t think the so called traditional model of one man and one woman is really as dominant as many traditionalists might think. Surely the fact that so many other forms were acceptable by ‘gods people’ (taking a slave or a dead brother’s widow) gives credence to a contemporary redefinition of marriage, particularly by those with different or non existent religious views.

      You are correct on your last point; I’m no longer in the church.

      That’s one of the reasons why I don’t think the church should have an enforcement role in terms of social standards. Sure, define marriage for your own members, but let any one else define it how they want. Given divorce is such a more clear cut and commonly spoken prohibition in the Bible, why isn’t the church leading campaigns to prohibit it again?

      I’m of the view that marriage is primarily a form of intangible relationship and commitment between people, and the state/legal status is only a tertiary biproduct of that. The legal marriage comes second in both importance and time. Therefore, there’s no social impact to redefining marriage since it’s simply acknowledging a form and substance of relationship that already existed. There’s no magical or spiritual incantation bringing into being something new. These relationships between consenting adults already exist, traditionalists are just restricting a legal reality.

  6. Adam, I can respect that you would hold a different view outside the Church. I also believe that the Church cannot impose their views on society – lest we become a Taliban state.

    I do see the sensibility of upholding the ideal definition. There is ancient wisdom in this model.

    • Thanks for the respect.
      Good on you for standing up for your ideals, I just personally don’t think it’s practical in reality, as the bible and modern life shows.

  7. Adam, there is much about the discipline of following Jesus that just does not appear as being a practical reality to this world.

    That’s what makes disipleship both difficult, costly and seemingly foolish.

    • I agree completely. I guess where we disagree is the role of disciples in regulating the behaviour of non-believers.

      It seems you agree wiith me by your statement “I also believe that the Church cannot impose their views on society – lest we become a Taliban state”, yet you also believe the church should have its definition and ideal of marriage imposed on the broader society. Sorry if I’m missing something that resolves this contradiction. I’m happy to hear it if I am

  8. Hamo,

    I think this is inspired writing

    “Either way let’s be a lot more gracious with one another as we try to process with integrity a theological, pastoral and cultural issue that currently seems to be bringing us undone in ugly ways.”

    The issues discussed are very complex and the Church has no shortage of strong views, as has been the case often in the past. Lets be gracious with one another is a good way to approach most disagreements in my view. A well considered and well written piece, thanks

  9. Hi Adam
    Christians cannot ‘regulate’ the world – ie not impose only seek to influence.
    It’s a matter of heart and leading by example.
    Henri Nouwen led in this matter by example in the most emphatic of ways.

  10. Hamo – I vomit when I see Pastors and corporations getting rich from religion.

    No excuses, EP a scholar and Pastor should have been well aware of his position on this material culural issue..

  11. Coming to this post a bit late, but I do feel a bit sad (but not surprised) to look at the world and see how things have gone for Christians and liberty when same sex marriage has been allowed and applauded. I do think, however, that the world finds the Christian perspective such an issue of consternation and confusion and castigation because they don’t really understand where we’re coming from from a spiritual perspective.

    I think we, as the church/family/body in general, don’t do a great job in engaging with non-believers as to why we feel so passionate about the issue. While we certainly are having discussions (both in public and private) about why widening the definition of marriage is unhealthy for children, families and the community, I think it could be helpful for us to unpack a little more (both in Christian circles and in discussion with non-Christians) why it’s an issue that cuts to the very core of our beliefs; that marriage is the most real and concrete and visual image we have of the relationship between Christ and his bride…Christian believers.

    I think the heart of the issue, for most people who are pro-same sex marriage, is the feeling that it’s none of our business how other people live, and that we have no right to have any say in things that are of no concern to us, but the fact is that marriage is not only marriage, but the very picture of the relationship between the redeemer (Jesus) and his redeemed bride (all Christian believers across time and space). (Boaz and Ruth are a beautiful image of this.) A change in marriage definition undermines the parable that is marriage, muddying the waters with respect to issues of roles and submission and headship and authority, and the completeness that is the joining of male and female (Gen 2:23-24).

    The reason I am most concerned about Australia allowing same sex marriage (not opposed to civil unions, just same sex marriage) is that we throw away (little by little) a gospel insight into how Jesus sees us, sacrifices for us, and will never abandon us. Two men together, or two women together can never display Ephesians 5 marriage.

    While I feel great love and compassion for gay people and the struggles that life poses for them, I can’t agree that the way to fix those issues is to change one of the most fundamental structures set in place by God; one which goes back to the first two people in existence. Such a delicate and tricky issue though, and one which we as Christians need to approach in a much more gentle and empathetic and Christ-like manner than we currently do. Lord Jesus, change our heart and our manner so people see you, rather than hate.

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