Thursday, April 15, 2010

When Famous Christians are Gay

EDITOR’S NOTE: I rarely comment on current events, and I have never commented on anyone by name before in this blog, but I was invited to submit a comment elsewhere, so I’ve revised and expanded those remarks here today.

Just the other day Jennifer Knapp, a highly regarded Christian singer released interviews with both Christianity Today and The Advocate announcing she is a lesbian. The interviews were timed with news of her new album, which she will promote on separate tours this summer--one with Christian singer Derek Webb, and the other with the Lilith Fair festivals. Some Christians are shocked and disappointed, others have lauded her courage. One thing for sure is gays and lesbians in our congregations will watch the reaction of the Christian community in the coming days. In my opinion Ms Knapp's’s situation shouldn’t rise to the level of requiring comment from the pulpit any more than other people’s sexuality requires comment. The news about Jennifer Knapp simply brings what is usually below the surface back to the surface for a few days. It is a difficult question for me because I hold strong convictions in several directions.

First–the Evangelical church in North America has failed gays and lesbians for years. We have vilified, condemned, and marginalized homosexuals while straight Christians have continued to commit any number of sexual sins. We look the other way when straight Christians engage in premarital sex, or adultery, or (I say this with great horror) sexually abuse others. Rarely–very rarely–are these sins called out from the pulpit. We have failed homosexuals by making their identity almost exclusively about their sexuality while we allow straight people to define themselves by other markers in their lives. We have done these things and more. The standard Evangelical response, “hate the sin, love the sinner” is wholly inadequate precisely because we rarely exhibit hatred for other sins. If we actively condemned greed and materialism in our churches while assuring greedy materialists that we still love them how many Christians trapped in those vices would feel comfortable enough to stick around?

My second conviction is that homosexual activity is sin, and like all sin, one of it’s most dreadful consequences is that sin holds people back from the full potential in their relationship with their Creator. As a pastor, I am concerned about gays and lesbians in their shortcomings in the same way I am concerned about everyone in my charge, and myself for that matter. The fact that the Evangelical church has horribly mistreated gays and lesbians for decades means that we have lost our moral standing and the practical ability to speak to gays and lesbians. Sin does not separate God from me, it separates me from God. The reason any sin should be addressed is out of concern for the individual and their life with God. God does not need us to defend him, but he requires us to intervene in the life of those we care about. True intervention requires grace and truth. Both are necessary because we are not complete without both.

Finally, as someone who values the scripture highly, I am positively distraught at the abuse of God’s word by people on all sides of this question. Proof-texting and finger-pointing are abuses that surely anger God now as they did in Jesus’ day. Ignoring and distorting the gift of the scriptures also harms the person who comes to the text looking to affirm themselves rather than to submit to God (and lest anyone misinterpret that last sentence, I am talking about all “sides” of this issue). While some Christians use the scriptures as bullet-points in an argument, others have pushed back from the table and determined that we cannot know God’s will in the matter. The well-intentioned effort to describe the Biblical witness about homosexuality as a matter of differing interpretations is, in my opinion, misplaced. When did claiming to be clueless about what it means to be a disciple become the mark of following Jesus?

Please permit me one last observation: in his earthly ministry Jesus angered religious people while putting sinful people at ease. Yet no one would seriously contend that Jesus gave anyone a “pass” on their sinful behavior. The only One who had the right to judge others found ways to befriend the sinner and infuriate the self-righteous. I want to be like Him.

30 comments:

  1. So glad you shared this Ray. Blessings.

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  2. Ray, this is a really thoughtful post on an increasingly complex subject. What you've written here won't make anyone happy on either end of the debate - a good sign you're probably on to something.

    Thanks.

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  3. amen, and again i say amen.

    that last observation is so imporatnt, yet so simple: be like Jesus...

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  4. Love, love, LOVE this post. Two main reasons:

    #1 - how the Christian church (in general) has villified homosexuals is WRONG and needs to be addressed

    #2 - how the church, and Christians in general, tend to pick & choose which sins to focus on, which are okay to attack people over and which are okay to ignore is WRONG, and angers me. Sin is sin is sin.

    Thank you for posting!

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  5. The degree of harshness upon which we judge sins we deem as "more sinful" as others needs to come to an end. You make a great point in that we turn the other way when it comes to certain sins, but then we jump at the chance to speak out against a politically charged one. Jesus' view of judging presented in Matt 7:1-5 is pretty clear. It does not give us the permission to allow sin without confronting them with the truth, and it also doesn't give us the right to judge others.

    Great blog as always.

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  6. Ray, I appreciate your blog, but think it could be more precise, and more helpful, if you use the terms "same-sex attraction" and "homosexual behavior," rather than the more broad term "homosexuality." The term "homosexuality" doesn't differentiate those Christians who experience SSA and who remain chaste from those who practice homosexual behavior.

    There may also be some benefit in not labeling people by their sexual identity (e.g., "gay" or "lesbian"). Instead, they are people who experience same-sex attraction, some of whom act on it. Putting it that way emphasizes people's humanity, and doesn't pigeonhole them by their sexuality.

    I sincerely don't want to be contentious, Ray. Just offering some suggestions based on my studies of SSA over the past few years.

    If you're interested, you can read more here: http://www.boundlessline.org/2009/09/sexual-compassion.html

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  7. Ted: there's nothing at all contentious in yours comments, and I appreciate your counsel, thanks.

    stewplay: Those Matthew verses should cause us to tremble--good call.

    FireWife: Addressing the church is tricky, eh? I hope to speak redemptively to everyone involved. Thanks for your help.

    Ed, Jason, and Steve: Thanks, thanks, and thanks!

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  8. Thank you, Ray, for your gracious response to my unsolicited comment. :-)

    Ted.

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  9. Thank you, Ray. I think that reasonable and respectful dialogue on this issue is vital, and sadly, missing on every side represented.

    Personally (and I know many evangelicals will disagree with me here), I think that the Church makes this far too much of a dividing issue and downplays the ambiguities that arise when trying to intelligently understand it. This may be due to the fact that my understanding of Scriptural authority is more nuanced and less clear-cut than that of much of evangelicalism, because while I believe that the Bible must be taken much more seriously than the liberal wing of the Church wants to, I think that issues of reason, experience, and Church tradition must be heeded in their own way as well, and understood and applied symphonically with biblical theology. I find ethical and intellectual factors of homosexuality outside of biblical exegesis very difficult to grapple with in this way.

    For this reason, I tend to favor more of an open, yet honest approach to homosexuality than is often seen. Personally (using the terminology of the online community GayChristian.Net), I have room at my table for both those who believe that same-sex marriage would be acceptable (Side A) and those who believe that homosexuals should remain celibate(Side B), though my conscience leans toward Side B. I have a much firmer opinion toward those who would rather risk all on the belief that homosexual attraction can be changed, and that is that it puts individuals, their potential mates, and their potential children at risk for significant harm based on a knee-jerk reaction toward our culture, and I have not seen any convincing results to the contrary.

    Whew! I got a little carried away. All of this is to say that I think a little more openness and dialogue is absolutely essential on this issue, because seemingly willful ignorance seems to define all discussion.

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  10. At both Ted - very, very, strongly -- and more gently, towards Ray -- do not forget heterosexual Single men who strive to walk in holiness and are dismissed readily at the local and national level in our fellowships. They are not worthy of the contempt shown them at times by ministries with national visibility. What this has to do this post is, basically; sexuality. It would never be breathed from the pulpit; but Church leaders both high and low in the Protestant world are not comfortable with male celibacy; it creeps them out or gives them reason to contemplate their own struggles, or to look down on the single man because he's not "gettin any."

    A person dealing with same-sex attraction who is walking in celibacy has, IMHO, more "issues" than a single male walking in celibacy; but both are walking in celibacy if they seek to honor Him.

    I acknowledge I don't know all the facts about whether Ms. Knapp is walking in celibacy or in a same-sex physical relationship.

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  11. I am a liberal young Christian who does not believe in Biblical inerrancy and does not think same-sex marriages are sinful, but I can appreciate conservative evangelicals who are trying to dialogue with gay and lesbian Christians in a respectful manner.

    However, if conservative Christians are to be truly respectful of their gay brethren, they must know when to back off and let people who do not subscribe to their particular theology live in peace according to their own conviction. Far too often, conservative Christians try to intrude into the religious affairs of people uninvited, and thus, trigger a deserved backlash.

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  12. P-Ray, I don't think anyone, including me, has ever expressed precisely how I feel about this issue until now. You've captured it exactly. I have had this conversation with one of my students who is a wonderful Christian kid, but has struggled with being a bit on the judgmental side when it comes to all sort of sin. His initial reaction was to get "away" from people he considered sinners. My response to him was: "What good are you doing for the Kingdom if you do that?" I could go on and on about my opinions and my beliefs about homosexuality, but the most important one is this... God has called me to love people. That is all. He will take care of the rest.

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  13. Thanks for sharing that, Ray. It is a really, really hard issue...I am so far from understanding how to be like Jesus in this area.

    To me, in my convictions, I don't feel like I'm shunning unbelievers who are living in sin...I'm looking for them! But I feel such a need for some solid teaching to help believers know what to do when a professing Christian in my church, or someone who wants to be helping in ministry, or who talks to my kids at church, etc, is living in a willful sexual (what we consider to be) sin. My daughter is 4; one of her favorites of our former youth group, who is female, is now in college with a girlfriend, who she brings to church some sundays and they are open about their relationship. This is just one example.

    I'm confused, grieved, and a little scared because the last thing I want to be is unloving and judgmental...I tend to be like the kid Amy was talking about who wants to steer clear completely of people (in my case, Christians) walking in a blatant sin. I don't know how to interact anymore (if they choose it as a lifestyle).

    Jennifer Knapp is one of my all time favorite artists, but I'm wondering if there's something wrong with me that I just don't want to listen to her music now...?

    Thanks for what you said, let me know if there's some more teachings you know of, because I could obviously use it! Sorry to write so much, and I hope my honesty (right or wrong as I may be) hasn't offended anyone!

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  14. Hi Lyndsay. My goodness--there are so many issues to discuss! Perhaps we can take them one-by-one in the coming weeks, because no single response is going to do the job. As you point out, Jennifer Knapp’s case isn’t unique--but her celebrity status within the Evangelical world brings the question to the forefront for a while.

    There are several issues we all need to face. Here are just a few:
    **Do we take the Lordship of Jesus seriously, or do we just want a Savior?
    **If we want a Savior, what do we think we needed to be saved from?
    **Why is Christian sexual behavior so much like secular American sexual behavior?
    **Why does the church stand resolutely against homosexual behavior but rarely address heterosexual sin?
    **Why is church discipline nearly impossible among Evangelicals in the 21st century?
    **Is “Contemporary Christian Music” entertainment, ministry, or a marketing demographic?
    **What is the place of the scripture in our lives today?
    **In the last hundred years, why has the scripture become less clear to us all even though Christian scholarship has become a growth industry in our universities and seminaries?
    **How do we as parents raise Christian children in a pluralistic society?
    **What is the difference between exercising judgment (a good thing) and being judgmental (a bad thing)?

    Our true need goes well beyond the “gay or straight” debate. Our true need is to rediscover the call to become followers of Jesus. I believe if we humble ourselves, we can all learn together. Peace!

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  15. Absolutely. These questions are the very heart of THE matter, so well put. I would love to learn in a community (online or whatever) that is finding truth on such things. Thanks, and I'll keep reading!

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  16. Those of us that at Gay-Christians can handle it. Thank you.

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  17. I believe you are on track with what Jesus would say concerning this topic. I've noticed in the Bible that Jesus had compassion on the "sinners" but was angered by the "religious" who pointed their fingers at the "sinners" as if they had no sin in their own lives or that their sin wasn't as bad. Their pride blinded them of their own sin. Jesus definitely wants us to repent of our sins and live a life of freedom and peace that can only come through His love in relationship with Him. As we experience His love, we will want to walk in obedience. I pray that we as Christians will love others with His love, and as they experience His love, they will repent of any sins that are keeping them from a complete relationship with Him. May we all walk in His love and obedience.

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  18. so do you think people that are homosexuals are going to hell if they dont change there ways?

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  19. I'm not the gatekeeper of heaven and hell, Jesus is. When Jesus paid the price on the cross, his blood was shed for all people, gay or straight, Jewish or Gentile, every people group. The real issue is whether each person--regardless of sexual orientation or any other life situation choose to come under his lordship--and that does mean life-change for each of us. Each of us spends our Christian walking cooperating with the Holy Spirit in all matters of life: sexual, relational, financial, and so on.

    Heaven will be a big surprise for all of us. Those we think are "in" may be out, and vice versa! Peace to you!

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  20. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

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  21. WOW great insights thank you.

    As a Born Again Christian of 25 years I am and as far as I can remember a Bi Sexual woman....leaning more so towards women for many reasons. I cannot speak for those who are strickly gay or lesbian, but I do know I tried to be all the way straight and it didn't work. The only way I found myself not struggling with sex or attractions to either gender was by being filled with the Holy Spirit and desiring what God's will for my life was and is...as long as I was focused on Him and serving others then I noticed my desires changed. That is to me really the only cure for any kind of sin. Sad things is we allow the FLESH and the world and Satan to rule in our hearts more than God...such is the problem of living in a spoiled society.

    I do not think I will ever change my attractions due to a life of abuse (never sexual thank God) neglect and abandonment and rejection etc. But I can live life knowing that we all sin and to God it isn't how much we sin or what kind, but the fact that we DO sin, and Jesus paid for all my sins and it is my heart that matters most is my relationship with Him and others....the 2 greatest commandments Jesus said were these.

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  22. Ray, thanks for this post. It shows that the Christian world is thinking more and more about their response towards to the GLBT community. As a Christian, I respect your stance, and I fight a response within me to say that if you don't completely agree with me, that I have to condemn you. Of course, we are all on a journey and slow discoveries can seem like fixed fact--but we are all growing towards greater truth if we let ourselves.

    So, I accept where you are. I agree that churches fixate on gay behavior far and above other sins. It's easy--they aren't going to offend a tither, and they can feel safe that those with a family (children especially) are not going to be affected. Like the person who posted that single straight men are also a bit marginalized in churches, gay men probably don't make up the significant portion of our churches.

    However, the idea that being gay is a sin (or that gay "behavior" is a sin) has been disproven by many theologians, and more and more denominations are now becoming welcoming and affirming churches. Thank God, because Christ's commission to us was not to reject people on the basis of who they were, but to present the gospel of knowing Christ equally to everyone.

    I am a gay Christian, and I will be married one day to a great guy. Unfortunately, there aren't a lot of gay christian men. THe churches have made my selection even harder to find because gays reject Christianity because of the rejection found there. I have a website called Talking Dog on wordpress that gives gay christian resources to those who are looking for something to even out the debate.

    It's nice that straight Christians are seeing that they are doing damage by ostracizing gays, but I hope to see soon that you realize the damage you do by labeling as sin gay sexuality, something inborn as much as straight sexuality. Until you discover the truth on that, you will continue to NOT have gays as friends or part of your community. You cannot accept someone without affirming them in who they are.

    Pastors and theologians, Christians and scholars have already come to the conclusions that being gay is not a sin. Why is this not convincing enough?

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  23. @Ted I'm not sure there's a difference between a man who is attracted to women but who remains celibate and a man who has sex with women. Both are straight. The man not having sex is not "gay". He is a man. We just say that one is chaste.

    A man who has same-sex attraction is either Bi, or gay. He is no different than a gay man who is not chaste. He is just not sexual at this time.

    Gay men and Lesbians prefer to be called gay or lesbian. It is our name for ourselves, and we'd appreciate it if you would respect us by using it. Depersonalizing us by removing sexuality from being human does not humanize anyone. Until gays came out in our churches, straight was the default, so no one has been labeled "Straight" before. I can see that it is uncomfortable, but sine there are gays and straights now, it is the term that is most applicable, and respectful (at least for us). Think of it in the same way, historically, as when women became more prominent in the church. Male and Men used to be the default thinking of the church...now not so much. But it was uncomfortable for men in the early church to have women take part in their faith at all...now not so much.

    Eventually you'll get used to respecting gays for what they bring to our churches. And calling them gay and lesbian, or whatever their preferred term, is a good positive step in that direction. Thanks.

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  24. Hi Jerome: First of all, welcome. It's amazing to me that this post continues to draw new readers even a year after it was written.

    Second, I'm grateful for the spirit and tone with which you've disagreed with me. It's a great example.

    I want you to know that I have genuine affection and respect for GLBT brothers and sisters, even as I disagree with your viewpoints. We probably won't experience change by exchanging brief posts in the blogosphere, but I want you to know that you'd always be welcome at my table. Blessings, and peace.

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  25. Hey, Ray, thanks for your comments. I hope I didn't come across as combative. You can have friends without agreeing on every point, as long as you have mutual respect.

    When I finally realized I was gay at 34, I waited 6 years to come out because I wanted to study the issue, afraid of losing my salvation. When I discovered my salvation was intact, I bravely came out to my congregation. I lost most of those friends who had known me, and respected me, for a long time. They felt betrayed, not understanding what I was saying, only hearing that I wanted justification for "sin."

    The whole gay agenda can be summed up easily--it's the same agenda anyone else in our churches has: to be loved for who we are; to be valued for what we bring; to feel safe; to serve and worship our risen Christ. I think this is the agenda of every Christian.

    The church had a hard time accepting Gentiles too. Even though I stayed in my church after I stepped down from my deacon position, lost my worship leading provileges (eventually even choir), and wasn't allowed to serve, the dialogue never happened. We have to have dialogue. We need to talk to you. If you want an effective ministry to any group, you can't decide what that group needs without asking them first. I stayed with my church for a year, hoping for dialogue, but I was treated to sermons that condemned me in front of my peers and friends.

    I appreciate your post, Ray, and would hope that one day we can have dialogue, like this, in person, with your church. Invite some christian gay people over and chat with us about our lives. We really only want to talk.

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  26. Hi Jerome: First of all, welcome. It's amazing to me that this post continues to draw new readers even a year after it was written.

    Second, I'm grateful for the spirit and tone with which you've disagreed with me. It's a great example.

    I want you to know that I have genuine affection and respect for GLBT brothers and sisters, even as I disagree with your viewpoints. We probably won't experience change by exchanging brief posts in the blogosphere, but I want you to know that you'd always be welcome at my table. Blessings, and peace.

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  27. @Ted I'm not sure there's a difference between a man who is attracted to women but who remains celibate and a man who has sex with women. Both are straight. The man not having sex is not "gay". He is a man. We just say that one is chaste.

    A man who has same-sex attraction is either Bi, or gay. He is no different than a gay man who is not chaste. He is just not sexual at this time.

    Gay men and Lesbians prefer to be called gay or lesbian. It is our name for ourselves, and we'd appreciate it if you would respect us by using it. Depersonalizing us by removing sexuality from being human does not humanize anyone. Until gays came out in our churches, straight was the default, so no one has been labeled "Straight" before. I can see that it is uncomfortable, but sine there are gays and straights now, it is the term that is most applicable, and respectful (at least for us). Think of it in the same way, historically, as when women became more prominent in the church. Male and Men used to be the default thinking of the church...now not so much. But it was uncomfortable for men in the early church to have women take part in their faith at all...now not so much.

    Eventually you'll get used to respecting gays for what they bring to our churches. And calling them gay and lesbian, or whatever their preferred term, is a good positive step in that direction. Thanks.

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  28. WOW great insights thank you.

    As a Born Again Christian of 25 years I am and as far as I can remember a Bi Sexual woman....leaning more so towards women for many reasons. I cannot speak for those who are strickly gay or lesbian, but I do know I tried to be all the way straight and it didn't work. The only way I found myself not struggling with sex or attractions to either gender was by being filled with the Holy Spirit and desiring what God's will for my life was and is...as long as I was focused on Him and serving others then I noticed my desires changed. That is to me really the only cure for any kind of sin. Sad things is we allow the FLESH and the world and Satan to rule in our hearts more than God...such is the problem of living in a spoiled society.

    I do not think I will ever change my attractions due to a life of abuse (never sexual thank God) neglect and abandonment and rejection etc. But I can live life knowing that we all sin and to God it isn't how much we sin or what kind, but the fact that we DO sin, and Jesus paid for all my sins and it is my heart that matters most is my relationship with Him and others....the 2 greatest commandments Jesus said were these.

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  29. I believe you are on track with what Jesus would say concerning this topic. I've noticed in the Bible that Jesus had compassion on the "sinners" but was angered by the "religious" who pointed their fingers at the "sinners" as if they had no sin in their own lives or that their sin wasn't as bad. Their pride blinded them of their own sin. Jesus definitely wants us to repent of our sins and live a life of freedom and peace that can only come through His love in relationship with Him. As we experience His love, we will want to walk in obedience. I pray that we as Christians will love others with His love, and as they experience His love, they will repent of any sins that are keeping them from a complete relationship with Him. May we all walk in His love and obedience.

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  30. Being born gay and breathing as such is not a sin.

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