A third reason why we may change our minds on what Scripture has historically about the acceptability of homosexuality has to do with the company we keep. By this I mean, consider what you are reading, seeing, and viewing in today’s media. I’m not advocating we turn off the TV or stop reading articles and books that take positions different from our own, but we need to be careful that those positions may alter our view—not because of their reasoning, but because of the status of the person writing the material.
One author I have always enjoyed for his devotional work is Henri Nouwen. During the last years of his life, however, Nouwen’s theology openly shifted not just regarding homosexuality but also regarding the uniqueness of Christ and his work as the only way to God. Only after his death did some of the reason for that shift become apparent: Nouwen himself secretly struggled with same-sex attraction. Couple that with dabbling in eastern religions, and Nouwen began to shift his own views. It wasn’t so much his own wrestling with Scripture that brought about this positional shift; it was what was going on in his own life. But Nouwen’s status, huge and imposing in the Christian world, had and still has a powerful impact on those who read him.
Who we listen to really does matter. Again, I’m not saying that we shouldn’t read anything that differs from our own viewpoint, or anything that differs from an historic Christian doctrinal position. We need to have our own positions, and the historical Christian position is sharpened by interacting with how the current culture is thinking. But we also have to be aware that when someone we admire begins to shift his or her position on what the Scriptures say, that can have a significant impact on us. We can be swayed not merely on the basis of a reasoned argument, but because we don’t want to look “out of step” with people whose thinking we have admired.
Have you ever been swayed to a different position than what the Scripture has historically taught (on anything) because someone you admired or respected took a different position?
Last week we looked at the strong and intense cultural pressures that are attempting to sweep all faith and all religion out of the marketplace of life. But there are other powerful reasons why many Christians today are changing their minds on homosexuality.
One major reason people give in is because of their own personal struggles or the struggles of someone they love and care about. Dealing with same-sex attraction is not easy, especially so in this culture of ‘anything goes’ sexuality.
There is no quick fix; there is no easy formula that will result in change. Obedience to Christ and his word is a tough path to walk for many, and the struggle can go on for years and years. To struggle against something so life-dominating is wearisome.
That goes for lots of things: addictions like substance abuse or alcohol or gambling; chronic depression; anger or bitterness over what life has dealt you. The way out is not to just give in and allow yourself to be defined by life-dominating behavior; it never is.
Unresolved personal pain that accompanies a poor theology of suffering and sanctification can also cause one to question God’s word. An inability to understand what it means to struggle with sin—as opposed to struggling against sin—leads to despair in the face of continued temptation. Add to this an inability to understand the powerful force of our sinful nature, and the stage is set for eventual compromise. Around Harvest USA, we often say, “The heart wants what it wants when it wants it.” This is its nature! Knowing how to face this reality is crucial.
Personal struggle or pain is very often the driving force when someone changes his or her mind on long-standing Christian doctrine. “Doctrine is life,” as Martin Luther once said, so one’s understanding of doctrine is not something that stands apart from the stuff of life that hits us all the time. Pain and suffering pushes into doctrine—as it should—but life needs to be informed and understood by doctrine, not the other way around. When one’s sociology informs one’s theology, we then live in a world where anything goes—and Scripture eventually gets turned on its head and made to say what it clearly doesn’t.
Where does your own pain or the suffering of someone you care about press upon you to alter what Scripture says? Do you understand the difference between “struggle with sin” as being distinct from “struggling against sin?”
What causes someone to change his or her mind on long-standing Christian doctrine? I recently ran into a woman from my church who, knowing my profession, told me that she was now unsure if Harvest USA’s position on homosexuality was helpful or biblical. She wondered if perhaps this was God’s gift after all. Who are we to tell someone their feelings about their own sexuality are wrong?
The encounter really shook me. I know this person. She is no novice to the faith. She knows the gospel. She has been in my church for more than a dozen years. I wanted to engage her in a conversation about why she no longer believes the historic doctrinal position on sexuality, but she wasn’t interested in dialoguing about it. She only wanted me to know that she now feels the “old” way of thinking is judgmental and mean-spirited. Then she walked away.
There are a number of reasons why someone like my church friend would be willing to change his or her mind. For one thing, we live in a culture that is actively engaged in confronting and dismissing truth found in the Bible. Religion is now viewed as oppressive, the reason for why we experience wars and interpersonal conflict today. If someone really wants to be free and follow his or her heart—well, religious belief is the obstacle that needs to be swept aside.
The Bible and what it has historically said about same-sex desire is swept up in this cultural tidal wave. To believe something that contradicts acceptable cultural norms is to appear dated, judgmental, and oppressive to people who want to live out their sexuality any way they please.
Even ordinary Christians buckle under this cultural pressure. Do not underestimate the cultural forces that moves and influences us, even to the point of adopting unbiblical positions. Particularly with this issue, the pressure to give in and change our minds is incredibly high, maybe the highest it has ever been. Increasingly, the historic, long-standing position of the church on homosexuality is under attack in the media, in our institutions, in our traditions, and even within the church itself.
Do you find yourself having a hard time resisting this cultural pressure? Do you find that it would just be easier to change your mind and be free of the pressure and the potential ridicule that other people might heap on you? Sometimes people change their mind not because of new evidence or persuasive reasoning, but because they are tired of not fitting in.
09 Oct 2010
This article first appeared as a religion column in the Philadelphia Daily News with the title “Churches that don’t acknowledge homosexuality build a difficult barrier.”
Twelve years ago, Oprah Winfrey interviewed J.L. King about his book, On The Down Low, which documented multitudes of black men who regularly engaged in sex with men.
Often husbands and fathers, they do not identify as “gay,” but they do live secret and radically disjointed double lives. In fact, King pointed out that African-American churches are “unrealistic about the number of men leading double lives.”
Recent accusations about a well-known Southern minister in a mega-church of African Americans have brought this discussion back into the limelight. King cites blatant hypocrisy: ministers who condemn homosexuality from the pulpit, then have sex with men in the pews.
His concern is that the church all too often condemns homosexuality rather than admits its presence among members and leadership. The picture King paints is that church leaders often mistakenly convey the message that this is something that happens “out there” and not “in here.”
Yet anyone can struggle with same-sex attractions and homosexuality, regardless of race and ethnicity. It is part of the human predicament. In a sense, it’s a subcategory of the major human dilemma. What is at the essence of the greater human dilemma? Just this: the Bible says that we react to confusion, life’s circumstances, hurts, disappointments, and pain by developing plans and strategies to make life work apart from God. We all develop approaches to life that say to others around us, and to God as well, “I have a plan for my life—don’t you get in my way.”
This is the nature of sin, which extends to what we do with our hearts and bodies, sexually speaking. How we handle sex reveals what we believe about God. Our use or misuse of sex always reveals whether we’re living lives of submission to God or rebellion. For all of us, then, one of the key questions of life is whether we’re willing to call God “boss” and let him meet our needs his way.
The white church is also hesitant to admit that its members experience these kinds of problems, as well as the propensity to live double lives of hypocrisy. Yet homosexuality seems to be a more hidden reality in African-American, Asian, and Latino churches. Perhaps the white church has just lost its sense of shame; that is, it has lost an awareness that something is terribly wrong, while African-American and other ethnic churches still hold on to some appearance that, biblically speaking, same-sex attraction is not a good thing to be open about or celebrated.
I don’t know how many black churches have become pro-homosexual. This is not a bad thing, but avoiding the real struggles that people experience is.
Keeping silent about these struggles puts those in the African-American church in a bind. The barriers to admitting the truth and seeking help consequently remain very high. These barriers must be broken down in the African-American church. This can happen only when these real heart issues and problems are discussed openly and honestly. That’s also when people who struggle with same-sex attractions might be encouraged to talk about it sooner so that they can understand how much God cares and longs to meet them in the midst of their secret struggles. The pop psychologist Dr. Phil is right on here. He often states boldly and frequently on his TV show, “What can’t be admitted can’t be changed.”
A passage from the Bible, I Thessalonians: 4:3-5, states, “This is God’s will, that you abstain from sexual immorality; and that each of you learn how to control his own body in holiness and honor; not in lustful passion. . . . ”
Admittedly, these are hard words to take in, especially in our ‘sex is my own business’ culture. But they are also life-giving words that transcend race and ethnicity. In this sense, God’s words to us are truly multicultural in nature.
01 Mar 2010
My time with the Lord each morning is 99.99% of the time accompanied by a mug or two of robust coffee. My musings this morning come from Hosea 7:8, Psalm 106:35, and Psalm 32:9. These verses refer to how God’s people “mingled” themselves with the pagan nations. They had been specifically commanded not to do this, but, much like us today, they wanted what they wanted and did it anyway.
Braiding. Mingling. Entangling ourselves. The allusion of oneness where there is no oneness. Christ alone can dwell within us, and Christ alone can truly complete us, fill us, be a faithful and safe receiver of our love, adoration, attention, worship. And yet we are all tempted to spiritually, emotionally, mentally, and physically entangle ourselves with creation.
For those inclined toward relational and/or sexual idolatry, it can seem so beautiful, so ‘natural’, so right because it feels good: the emotional and sexual rush that happens when the images are clicked to from one to the other; the soothing endorphin release that happens when reading those emails of verbal, emotional, sexual connection; the free-falling lostness into a fantasy world of love and romance that seems to exist with that person on the other side of the IM chat.
You know you’re stuck. You feel the enslavement, the addiction of it all. You fear being found out. Jesus knows these things, and his mercy to you is compassionate love poured over you. His mercy to you comes from his holy heart which knows the misery that sin brings, the anguish and ways of pain that just are a part of living in this fallen world. Are you in pain because of your sin?
To pain-filled, sin-captive hearts, Jesus does not say merely, “Do this or do that!” So here’s where Psalm 32:9 comes in. Our Lord wants so much more than for us to follow him like a bridled horse or mule who is yanked here and there. And I would suggest to you that he even has more for us than the beautiful picture of a sheep listening for the familiar and safe voice of a trusted shepherd. What Christ calls us to is the tender relationship of Bride to Bridegroom. Of relationship. Of love and faithfulness woven together.
If you’re heartsick this Monday—maybe you were doing some braiding and mingling over the weekend—don’t try to undo yourself by being a spiritual horse or mule. That same Psalm 32 contains two other amazing promises which say the Lord’s love and songs of deliverance surround his people (see verses 7 and 10):
- Come to Lord Jesus, a Bridegroom full of mercy and worthy of your devotion.
- Acknowledge where, how, and when you’ve been mingling with this world. Where, how, and when has sin led you away from him?
- Ask him to instruct, counsel, and teach you in the way you should go (verse 8). Do you need to talk to someone? Ask for prayer? Seek accountability? Are you being nurtured from God’s Word? Are you seeking time with people who enthuse you and provoke you to fall in love with Jesus? People who sing and shout and whisper courage into your heart—words that remind you it is worth it to live for King Jesus and his kingdom purposes?
- Ask him to open your spiritual eyes to his mercy which soothes you, then invigorates you to robust obedience.
- Listen—those songs of deliverance are being sung over you!
- Trust that Jesus loves you, forgives you, is making you new, and is setting you free. One step of faithfulness at a time. Just one step. Take your next step of obedience.
Then enjoy a mug of coffee with him tomorrow morning—or now!
24 Feb 2010
Here are some final thoughts about how our souls become attached to what they should be detached from. How does Christ enable us to remain attached to, or in an abiding relationship with, him? The ideas of being ‘aroused’ and ‘awakened’ are key for us to consider.
The Bible’s use of ‘arousal’ mostly refers to sexual arousal, meaning that the body’s sexual sensitivities are stirred. But our souls and emotions can also be ‘aroused’: stirred, moved, touched.
Being aroused from sleeping seems to describe the brief time between slumber and being fully awake. “She was aroused from her deep sleep and woke up,” for example. I wonder if this is a way for us to also consider how our emotions and thoughts can be stirred in a direction that then leads us to be ‘awakened’ towards acting upon those emotions and thoughts. We can either acti upon them in either a Christ-ward direction, abiding in him and his Word, or in a selfish and sin-ward direction.
Psalm 34:8 says to “taste and see that the Lord is good” (ESV). Galatians 5:16 instructs us to “walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh.” Both of these verses speak to the issue of what and who will arouse or awaken you. What do the taste buds of your heart hunger for? Seek to attach to? The promise of Galatians 5:16 is that we will not gratify our sinful desires as we walk in the Spirit, which is another way to describe what it means to abide in Jesus: being filled with and directed by his Spirit. Those sinful desires come from our sinful hearts being aroused and awakened to worldly things rather than the Lord. Sinful cravings can be for things like:
- physical or emotional pleasure at any cost
- escape from emotional pain at all costs
- fearful avoidance of any circumstance or encounter that might lead me to feel rejected
- being number one and made much of by those in my life
To be aroused by, awakened by, and attached to holiness and the things of the Lord isn’t a series of steps per se; rather, it is a radical relational reorientation towards a person: Jesus.
What do you think about the idea of attachment vs. abiding?
26 Dec 2009
“Be to me a rock of refuge to which I may continually come” (Psalm 71:3, ESV).
Psalm 71 might seem like an unusual (or unexpected, at the least!) place to go for a Christmas-week meditation. “Come on Ellen…you must at least go to Psalm 22, Luke 1-2, or Isaiah 9!”
Well, isn’t it great how our Lord, the Wonderful Counselor, opens up his Word to us in new ways? I’ve gone to Psalm 71 a lot in recent years for the insight it gives on how our mouths are to be used. Being a woman who vocationally depends on her mouth, words, and speech, this psalm is full of the truth I need daily.
Recently, however, some new thoughts have emerged from this psalm that I want to share with you this Christmas week.
“…to which I may continually come.”
‘Continually’ is a solid word, indicating ‘always, habitual, lifestyle.’ We continually come to Jesus because he is continually available. He is always present. He is an “all the day,” “at all time” Savior, Redeemer, Rescuer, and Lord. Always. This is what I’m calling his 24/7-ness, which invites us to a lifestyle of responsiveness to him. David lives, speaks, and hopes from a 24/7 responsiveness to the Lord.
David had the freedom of heart and faith to express his 24/7 neediness of God, to God, but David didn’t stop there. This song is also full of expressions of living continually before the Lord in hope, in worship, in trust! This is where Christmas leads us: the Word made flesh and living always with us. This is Luke 1-2 and is absolutely Psalm 22’s Messiah. This is life in a fallen world that is being redeemed and in which the Lord Jesus is present to us through his Spirit.
Where have you been running to continually? Where, what, or who is your “rock of refuge,” especially in the holiday season, which for many is so challenging, painful, lonely, disappointing? Today, be reminded of Psalm 71:3’s Christmas hope for you: Jesus is continually available for you in temptation, in struggle, in the ‘groaning’ you may be experiencing in the battle against sin. He came so that now, by faith, we experience him coming to us in our weaknesses and in our worship, as we believe upon him to be our Rock of Refuge.
18 Dec 2009
“Come, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and he who has no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price. Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which does not satisfy? Listen diligently to me, and eat what is good, and delight yourselves in rich food” (Isaiah 55:1-2, ESV).
Rich “food,” or “fare,” should be capitalized here, as this fare, this banquet table is Jesus! When we have the taste buds of our hearts re-oriented and set on what is true, on what is sweet and good, we are led to Jesus, the table in the presence of enemies (Psalm 23:5). Jesus comes to us in our disordered desires and confused understandings and gives us himself.
We at Harvest USA have the amazing opportunity to enter into conversations with people week after week and to experience Jesus bringing peace where turmoil has been reigning. He reigns in thirsty hearts who come to him in the midst of deserts, of unholy attachments and behaviors that have left them unsatisfied and experiencing a “continual lust for more” (Ephesians 4:19, NIV).
This Christmas season, you may be invited to many types of tables…to snack, graze, feast. If sexual sin, emotional idolatry, addictive and life-dominating menus are what you’ve been ordering from, Jesus invites you to come to him to delight in the richest of fare. There is hope for you to taste and see and know that he is good!