For or Against?

Gustave Dore - http://www.creationism.org/images/

My guess is that most of us have heard of Joshua and the battle of Jericho. There’s an interesting part of the story, however, that is rarely told.

13 Now it came about when Joshua was by Jericho, that he lifted up his eyes and looked, and behold, a man was standing opposite him with his sword drawn in his hand, and Joshua went to him and said to him, “Are you for us or for our adversaries?” 14 He said, “No; rather I indeed come now as captain of the host of the LORD.” And Joshua fell on his face to the earth, and bowed down, and said to him, “What has my lord to say to his servant?” 15 The captain of the LORD’S host said to Joshua, “Remove your sandals from your feet, for the place where you are standing is holy.” And Joshua did so. Joshua 5:13-15 (NASB)

What an intense story! In all likelihood, it was an angel that stood face to face with Joshua.

So often we develop a for and against mentality. It’s all about us versus them. The angel would have nothing to do with that mindset. He was for God—period! The real issue was about approaching the Creator of the universe with humility, fully subjecting oneself to His holiness.

Over the past several months I’ve been developing a study titled, The Search for Wisdom. Through the process I am more clearly seeing that one of the keys to knowing God and His ways is to fully surrender one’s self-will to the heavenly Father, just as Jesus always did (John 5:30).

The battle of the will is the most difficult struggle any of us will ever face. Each of us is cut from the same cloth in the sense that we all want what we want.

For me, this is especially difficult when it comes to ministry. I’ve invested (and sacrificed) so much in doing what I do. I care about people and certainly believe that my ministry has noble foundations. Even still, all of my efforts need to be surrendered to the Father. In order to bear real fruit His work can only be done in His way and in His time.

Essentially I am saying that my personal opinion doesn’t really matter all that much. My heart genuinely goes out to the pain and struggle of those in the GLBT community, but I cannot with a clear conscience say that God is honored by sexual activity outside of a marriage covenant between one man and one woman. It’s not about what I want or how I feel—I simply can’t find anything in the Scriptures to the contrary.

Homosexuality is such a hyper-sensitive topic that we must exercise great care and patience in dealing with those who may disagree with our perspectives—regardless of how strongly we may feel. And certainly, God’s love calls us to treat all men and women with honor and respect. Thus, I readily applaud those who would challenge the church in these areas.

Photo by gingerpig2000 - CC BY 2.0

At the same time many of us feel compelled to stand for traditional marriage because we believe it stands as a holy ground without which our culture will continue to unravel. It’s not about being against homosexuality per se; most Christians have no agenda with the GLBT community in its cross hairs.

When it comes to life, I would much rather be defined by what I am for rather than against. If I had my preference, I wouldn’t be against anybody, but if being for God’s wise design for sexuality somehow puts me against the opinions of others, it must be so.

In closing this series I would challenge each of us to honestly consider a few lingering questions. Are our attitudes and actions defined by what we are for or what we are against? Are we willing to surrender all aspects of our lives in pursuit of God and His ways? And finally, I can’t help but feel that Joshua’s question is especially poignant in our day:  What has our Lord to say to His servants? Do we really want to know?

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What Does the Bible Say?

Photo by RoganJosh - morgueFile

This blog series and the ensuing conversations have centered around the relationship between Christianity and homosexuality. We’ve had some interesting dialogue about a lot of issues, but this discussion can in no way be complete without taking into account a Biblical perspective. After all, apart from the Bible, Christianity means almost nothing.

I’ve read (and reread) passages of Scripture that deal with homosexuality. I’ve poured over commentaries and studied word meanings from the original languages. I’ve tediously worked my way through uninspiring books on the subject. I’ve visited various websites to gain additional perspective. I’ve listened to people from the gay community share their painful struggles. I’ve even turned my attention to representatives from the LGBT camp who explained what the Bible really says about homosexuality.

Because of the high stakes involved, I can’t just accept verbatim what leaders from either camp proclaim. I want to make absolutely sure that I find God’s heart on this issue.

However, the deeper I dig into the Scriptures (doing my best to allow the text to speak for itself), the more I find myself an advocate of traditional marriage. When I examine the Biblical arguments in opposition, I find generally unsound methods of interpretation.

Without going into a deeper analysis of any specific text, I want to present in a small nutshell the summation of my perspective on this critical issue.

Mankind’s relationship with God is based upon a series of covenants which only God has the authority to institute and change (Galatians 3:15). Historically, every time God made a change in covenant He communicated both the reality and the terms of that change in a very clear manner.

The Law of Moses, for example, was integral to a specific covenant between God and man. The 613 commandments found in the Law of Moses were intended to last only until the establishment of the New Covenant (unless they were somehow reaffirmed). By His lifestyle, sacrificial death, and resurrection power, Jesus fulfilled the Law and established the New Covenant. The old system of rule-based righteousness was no longer necessary. This is all quite clear in the Scriptures.

Photo by balleyne - CC BY-SA 2.0

When God created Adam, He expressed the need for man to have an intimate companion, and so He created Eve. God then established the covenant of marriage between one man and one woman (Genesis 2:24-25).

Regardless of what mankind has done through the ages, God has never changed the terms of the marriage covenant. Instead, the marriage covenant between one man and one woman is affirmed more than once under both the Old and New Covenants (Mark 10:2-9). From a Biblical perspective, sexual immorality constitutes any type of sexual activity outside of the bounds of the marriage covenant between two individuals of the opposite sex.

The Bible stands strongly against all types of sexual immorality (Hebrews 13:4), but primarily because of what it stands for. In addition to being the best design for healthy societies, the marriage covenant stands a metaphor for our union with Christ (Ephesians 5:31-32). In other words, sex is sacred because of the sacred nature of our relationship with God.

In more than one passage the Bible equates sexual immorality with idolatry. Both are violations of fidelity to unchangeable covenants—covenants established by God Himself.

Sexual purity has nothing to do with picking and choosing which of the 613 Old Covenant laws we want to enforce. Instead, the terms of our covenant relationships transcend Old Covenant law. Both idolatry and sexual immorality stand as critical issues in the New Testament as well as the Old (please read Acts 15:1-29).

I realize that this perspective is grossly out of step with our cultural norms, but I contend that our culture is accountable to God—not the other way around. We all have fallen desires, many of which are sexual; and I am so thankful for the resurrection power of the cross to help us overcome!

I once heard of sex being compared to a beautiful, majestic river. As long as that river stays within its banks, it remains an exciting source of joy and life. But if that water overflows its boundaries, the resulting devastation can be foul and deadly! By God’s wise and loving decree, the boundaries of sexual relationships are to fall within the banks of a marriage covenant between one man and one woman. We may not totally understand God’s design, but we put ourselves in grave danger trying to conform it to our desires!

Public Relations or Reality?

I grew up in a small town with a relatively small perspective of the world. Everything began to change in 1978 when I enrolled at the Indiana University of Pennsylvania (IUP). Not only did I meet people from all over (Pennsylvania that is), but I had my first real opportunities to meet homosexuals and born again Christians. I can’t really say that I thought much of either.

Two guys on our floor were reputed to be gay. I would greet them in the hall but didn’t pay much attention otherwise. I will say they received at least some measure of abuse from some of the guys on the floor.

Eventually I met a small handful of professing Christians that I thought to be somewhat normal. As we began to build friendships I was confronted with the reality of the Bible. I had always possessed a vague belief in God, but reading the Bible challenged me in a way I never anticipated. In time I surrendered my life to Christ and got more involved with the conservative Christian community.

On one occasion a gay activist came to speak on campus. A couple of friends and I decided to attend. We wanted a better understanding of this whole issue. The turnout was extremely small: the three Christians constituted almost half of the group.

The speaker was undeterred, gathering everybody together and passionately sharing his vision to see homosexuality become mainstream in American culture. Most of the plan centered on a massive public relations (PR) campaign and the infiltration of key centers of influence.

Ten years later I found myself back at IUP leading a campus ministry. How things had changed! While not violently hostile, the university community was no longer friendly to the conservative Christian faith.

In struggling to get established we decided to change the name of our campus ministry, which required a new constitution. Much to my surprise our constitution required an anti-discrimination statement including sexual orientation and religious beliefs.

In a meeting with a Student Affairs representative I explained our case. Anybody was welcome to attend our meetings and everyone would be treated with respect. But when it came to choosing leaders, we had to be free to choose them according to our beliefs—otherwise we would cease to be Christian!

No matter! The university policy (while illegal) was unbending. We could have gone public, but that’s not really my style. Instead, we appealed to the legal counsel of the PA State System of Higher Education (SSHE). Their response was the same, so we appealed again. Again we received the same answer. For almost two years we were denied campus privileges and our First Amendment rights to freely exercise our religious beliefs.

About that time the university hired a new Vice President of Student Affairs. He seemed like a fair man so I explained our quandary. A short time later we received a letter stating that our constitution would be accepted as we had written it, but we still needed to abide by university policies. I accepted the letter and the issue never surfaced again—for our group.

In the years following I served in various leadership roles and had the privilege of interacting with Christian campus leaders from all over the country. My eyes were now wide open to a very real issue on college campuses across the U.S. And as the college campus goes, so goes the culture! (Check out this recent article from the Christian Post.)

A few years later a gay professor blasted one of our students for her beliefs in front of the class, “We should light Sara on fire and throw her out the window!” Sara bravely responded with love and by the end of the semester had built at least a friendly relationship with the professor.

The trend continues for a vague, nebulous form of spirituality to be accepted, even encouraged, by universities everywhere. Jesus is okay as long as portrayed as some warm, fuzzy god accepting of all. Adherence to the actual teachings of the Bible; however, is highly disdained. Statements by Christ such as “I am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father but by Me,” are by no means acceptable. Upholding Biblical teaching that sexual activity must be limited to a man and a woman within the bond of covenant marriage is immediately labeled as narrow minded and bigoted.

I share all of this to help bring a more complete perspective to this volatile issue. To portray those in the GLBT community as the only victims of discrimination and mistreatment is downright wrong. It’s no less wrong to vilify all who disagree with a homosexual lifestyle as being homophobic and hateful.

Let’s do our best to distinguish between reality and PR!

Disagreeing Without Being Disagreeable

This is the third and final guest blog post by my friend Gary Buterbaugh.

Photo by Chris Morgan - CC BY-SA 2.0

I find that I am a part of two VERY different communities.  One is the church – I became a Christian at an early age and have been very involved in the church since my teen years. I do not endorse everything the church does and since the church is such a diverse organization, I do not feel that I can speak for the church as a whole.

The other community is the gay community. I have never been active in this community and like to say that I have only visited it. I have not had a commitment to the gay community’s agenda nor have I been involved in a gay relationship at any point in time. I am also in disagreement with much of what the radical gay community says, does and represents.

However, by nature of my struggle since my teen years with same-sex-attraction (SSA), and involvement for many years in homosexual activity, I am in fact part of that community. In that community I readily identify with other gays and lesbians who have experienced God’s grace and seen His redemptive power in their lives. As a member of both communities, I think I am in a unique position to identify what I see as those issues that the two communities should be able to most easily agree on and those which they would probably most easily disagree on.

Both communities agree to the basic premise that all persons should be treated with respect, although many within both communities frequently use language and slurs to demean those who hold views different than their own. If the church is to have significant ministry in the gay community to proclaim the good news that Jesus offers forgiveness of sins and wholeness, it must begin by asking forgiveness for the way it has treated individuals within the gay community. Where individuals and local churches have done this, God’s grace has been able to bring healing.

But the gay community routinely labels all evangelical Christians and the churches to which they belong as homophobic and hateful. This is not only not helpful, but untrue. There are a few who deserve this label, but most Christians harbor no ill feeling towards gay people; they simply do not know what to say (or not say) and worry that their actions and words might be taken as offensive or ridiculed.

Photo by Charlie Nguyen - CC BY 2.0

Both communities should also be able to agree that because of discrimination on the part of others, as well as personal internal conflict, those who deal with SSA and homosexuality have a special need to be loved and understood. (The high suicide rates among teens who deal with homo-sexuality are widely reported.) The church has not always treated those who deal with SSA and homosexuality with the same love that God showed when He gave His only Son. I believe the church needs to repent of this.

But there are several things on which both communities may never agree upon. This does not mean they cannot respect those in the other community.

  • The church says that there are things that are right and things that are wrong, and that the Bible speaks clearly on sexual issues. The gay community is more likely to believe that right and wrong is relative and that sex is the way to express love and experience pleasure.
  • Many in the gay community (all in the more radical gay community) believe that children should be taught about the gay lifestyle while most in the church believe that children should be taught about moral values and sexual issues in the home and church.
  • The church would lean towards beliefs that homosexual behavior is an expression of one’s sinful state. The gay community would lean toward the belief that individuals are born gay.
  • The gay community would tend to think that it is okay to act-out on SSA feelings (although some may say this should be done within the confines of a committed relationship). The church teaches that sex outside marriage between a man and a woman is both sinful and destructive for the individuals involved and the institution of the family.
  • The church believes that God has the power to change. The gay community would be more likely to believe that there is no need for change.
  • The church sees God primarily as a God of love, love is His very essence. The gay community is more likely not to describe God (and especially His church) as being loving because of the struggle they have experienced.

There is a good chance that we will always disagree on these issues. But as a member of both communities, I can’t say strongly enough that everyone and their opinions need to be respected, and their right to speak them needs to be upheld!

Plutoed!

Pluto Protest and Counter Protest by Fanboy (Public Domain)

This is the second of three guest blog posts by Gary Buterbaugh.

Have you ever heard of being plutoed?  We’re not talking about Pluto the proper noun, but the verb to pluto—the American Dialect Society’s 2006 word of the year. Many of you probably remember learning about Pluto as the ninth planet in your grade school science lessons. You may have even constructed your own model of the Solar System at one time or another. Well, you may need to climb back into your parents’ attic to yank out that last crumpled ball of aluminum foil, because on August 24, 2006 the International Astronomical Union demoted Pluto from the status of beloved ninth planted to dwarf planet134340 Pluto.

According to Max Lucado, minister and prolific author, to be plutoed means to be “demoted or demeaned like the former planet Pluto – one day you’re in, and the next day you’re out.”

Most of us – if not all of us – at one time or another have felt plutoed, but perhaps no group of individuals have experienced this more than those who struggle with homosexuality and same-sex-attraction. Young boys who may be more effeminate in their mannerisms, or more oriented to things on the soft-side, get used to being called faggot or sissy, and made to feel they are not accepted by their more macho friends.  The same is true for young girls who are more athletic or masculine in nature, and are called dyke or lessie by other children. When a teen guy or girl comes out that they are gay or lesbian, or when anyone who struggles with homosexual feelings at any age shares with friends and family about their struggles, they are more often than not met with rejection and ridicule. It is difficult in our culture to go through a day without hearing a demeaning joke or comment about homosexuals.

Photo by NASA (Public Domain)

But perhaps the greatest amount of plutoing is done by those who should demonstrate just the opposite of demoting and demeaning, those who are called to share and demonstrate the love and grace of Jesus Christ—the church.

On one extreme the fundamentalist church bombards homosexuals with the message that their actions are an abomination and that they, having no hope of salvation, will end up in hell. On the opposite end of the spectrum lies the liberal church in its proclamation that homosexuality is a God-given gift to be accepted and embraced. In between these two extremes lies the vast majority of Christians who simply try to ignore the subject of homosexuality, treating those who struggle with homosexuality and same-sex-attraction as if they simply don’t exist.

But to those who do wrestle with such feelings, there is good news!  God is not a plutoer—even though at times the church may fail to show the true depth of His amazing love. As eternal as God’s holiness may be, His love continues to boldly proclaim, “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16 NIV).

When we turn to Him He does not respond with rejection. He responds with love and the power to heal and forgive, and the redemptive power to change the way we process life.

The Lord continually calls those who have embraced Him, having given their lives to His control as Lord and Savior, to love the world’s plutoees with the love that sent His Son Jesus to Calvary.  Are you willing to share that kind of love and the message of redeeming grace with those who struggle with same-sex-attraction, or will you continue to pluto them? I hope that my story somehow helps to influence not only your behavior, but also your motives.

My Journey to Hope

I am pleased to say that for the next 2-3 weeks I will have my first guest blogger! Gary has been a friend for over 20 years and he brings a real and personal perspective to our recent dialogue about homosexuality and the Christian faith.

Photo by davedehetre - CC By 2.0

I am a retired college professor. I have always been single. I am a committed Christian, having been raised in a Christian home and accepting the Lord as my Savior at a young age. My relationship with the Lord Jesus is the most important thing in my life.

God provided a great Christian family, but when I was young my Dad worked in the evenings. Combined with the fact that I am both athletically and mechanically challenged, I became closer to my Mom than to my Dad.

I grew up in a small community with four or five other boys about my age. At a young age we began to explore sexual things. The others began in their pre-teen and teen years to do things with girls, but I did not – I think I felt spiritual pride in not being heterosexually active.

Throughout high school, I did occasional sexual exploration with my (heterosexual) friends, but during my college years I began to do sexual things anonymously. This set the agenda for my sexual encounters over the next forty plus years. I looked for anonymous sexual encounters in places where guys struggling with same sex attraction and homosexuality look for such things. My sexual activity became more and more risky as I attempted to satisfy my sexual appetite. Several years ago, I began to find encounters through the internet using mainly gay internet sites.

I saw my sexual activity as sin and longed to be set free. I looked for accountable relationships to give me the help I needed, but found none. I confided my struggles with a few close friends and my pastors, but no one seemed to know how to help me. I so wanted to be free from the inner conflict that waged within, but had no hope of change.

Things came to a head in the summer of 2006 when I was arrested for invasion of privacy. The story got wide media coverage as I held a high profile on my campus and in the community. Although extremely difficult, this turned out to be my turning point.

For a couple of days, I felt distant from God, but soon discovered His forgiveness and strength. In late September I spent two weeks in a recovery program with Love In Action. Though group interaction, various exercises and great teaching I discovered so much about homosexuality (and same sex attraction)—and about myself. I finally saw that my sin did not define who I am – it’s my relationship with Christ that defines me. What hope! While I was at Love In Action I made a commitment to be celibate. With God’s help I have kept that commitment, having had victory for the most part in my thought life, and freedom from my negative feelings about myself.

Photo by Franco Folini - CC BY-SA 2.0

In January of 2007, I began a sixty-day study, called Door of Hope, through the website settingcaptivesfree.com. Door of Hope was instructive and a real encouragement that I was on the right path.

I then felt God put it on my heart to attend the Exodus International conference the following June. Exodus is an organization that proclaims the message of hope in Christ for change to the world, and to those struggling with homosexuality. Perhaps, Exodus’ most consistent message is that the opposite of homosexuality is not heterosexuality, but holiness.

In the summer of 2008, I again attended an Exodus conference – another great experience of learning and worship! The highlight was my introduction to the ministry of Healing for the Soul, and its founder and Director, Jayson Graves. Through this contact, I began telephonic counseling with Jayson and joined a telephonic sexual addiction recovery group shortly thereafter. We met once a week by phone with a counselor from Healing for the Soul and we each called the other members of the group during the week. We also worked through The Twelve Steps – A Spiritual Journey. How pleased I am to have developed such strong and close relationships with the guys in the group! Over a year ago I joined a Healing for the Soul graduate group that provides the same telephonic support and accountability my recovery group did.

Photo by arwilliams - morgueFile

I wish I had before and after pictures of my heart to show everyone. I feel like I am a living example of Romans 12:1-2, having submitted my body and mind to the Lord, He has transformed me. In Jeremiah 29:11, God tells His people He has plans to prosper them and to give them hope. I know He has both prospered me and given me hope. I marvel at what the Lord has done (and is doing) in my life to provide victory and healing. I pray that my personal story of God’s redeeming love and power will bring encouragement to areas of your life in which you may feel hopeless.

The Plight

Rwandan Refugee Camp - U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services

If you read some of the comments from my previous two blogs, you’ll quickly notice that my perspective of homosexuality in relationship to Christianity puts me at odds with the gay community. You’ll also see that with this hot-button issue discussions can quickly become inflamed arguments, even among friends. And it’s entirely possible we’ll disagree on these things for a very long time to come. But there is one thing I am confident we do agree on. Our world is overflowing with refugees and not all are the result of wars between world governments. Vulnerable people, often the young, are continually being caught in the crossfire between the GLBT and socially conservative battle lines.

Imagine yourself as a 15-year young man who begins to feel an attraction to other guys. What would go through your mind? Seriously, take a minute to consider the inner turmoil that you might feel. Where would you turn for help in processing your struggle?

If you look toward the GLBT community, the message might be something like: “This is your identity! Embrace it! Accept who you are! Come out of the closet and quit living a double life!” But maybe you don’t want to go there.

Turning toward the conservative Christian community, you could hear a very different message. “What’s wrong with you? How can you call yourself a Christian? If you were a real Christian, you wouldn’t have such thoughts!”

Then, of course, there are the bullies. Those who prey upon weakness and ridicule anyone different from themselves. Their torment can be absolutely brutal!

Photo by lisasoloynko - morgueFile

So, if you were in this situation, where would you turn? You certainly didn’t ask to be physically attracted to other males. Maybe you have even prayed extensively that your desires would simply go away. But they haven’t. Where does that leave you?

Although I’ve never wrestled with same sex attraction, I’ve had my share of struggles in life. There have been times when unwanted feelings and desires wouldn’t go away no matter how much I prayed. Times when I tried turning to Christians for counsel, only to receive hollow, pat answers. Times when I avoided speaking openly because of the judgmental murmurings I heard around me. Breaking my silence would have been tantamount to drawing a bullseye on my back. Such times are lonely, painful, confusing. You feel as though you’ll be sprayed with arrows if you let down your guard even for a second.

Photo by Mary R. Vogt - morgueFile

It’s here that I think the sin of the conservative Christian community is grave. Rather than lending a hand of love, encouragement or strength to those struggling with same sex attraction (or any other issue), we tend to create a judgmental environment, complete with off handed comments and contemptuous jokes. In the end we push people toward the gay community, which they often find much more accepting. Those who desire to stay connected to conservative Christianity are compelled to a turtle-like existence. Feeling inferior as Christians they pull inward to hide their struggles. Sometimes the pain of the plight leads as far as suicide. This really is a life and death issue.

The Apostle Peter once wrote, “Honor all people, love the brotherhood, fear God, honor the king” (1 Peter 2:17 NASB). It’s such a simple and powerful command—one that truly deserves our attention. God doesn’t call us to agree with everyone or to put a stamp of approval on everybody’s actions, but to treat all men and women with honor and respect. It’s amazing how something so simple can be so life-giving, and yet mostly ignored! Until we learn how to honor even those who oppose us, the best of our arguments ring hollow and our witness ineffective. And worst of all, spiritual refugees will continue to suffer and possibly die in isolation. Brothers and sisters in Christ, the Holy Spirit of God dwells within us. We can do better than this!