“The Danger and the Glory”

jonathan-storment

 

A guest post from Jonathan Storment, preaching minister for the Highland Church of Christ in Abilene, TX…..

 

 

 

“A person once asked me…if I approved of homosexuality, I replied with another question, ‘Tell me: when God looks at a gay person, does he endorse the existence of this person with love, or reject and condemn this person?’ We must always consider the person.” -Pope Francis

“91% of American Young Adults think of the Church as Anti-Homosexual” -David Kinnaman and Gabe Lyons in “UnChristian”

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This past Sunday at Highland Church, Sally Gary and I talked about the one thing that churches either don’t ever talk about or talk about way too much.

We talked about human sexuality, and what it looks like to be a disciple of Jesus in today’s world. Sally has written about her experience with same-sex attraction in an incredible memoir “Loves God, Likes Girls” and her ministry has helped Churches and Christian Universities all over the country think through how to talk about sexuality in a more productive way…and what being a disciple means today.

And if you are a Christian, that is the question, not which side of LGBT issues do you fall on, but what does being a disciple of Jesus require of me?

Selling Sex

In their non-religious book, “Premarital Sex in America: How Young Adults Meet, Mate and Think about Marrying” the authors (research psychologists) have interviewed tens of thousands of young adults to find out what they think about when they think of sex. And they found that there are really two core themes that people in the West are inundated with:

1. Sex isn’t really that big of a deal

2. Sex is the only thing that matters

We’re constantly told that you can’t be fully human if you don’t express your sexuality in whatever venue that you feel appropriate…and that anyone who tries to constrain you is really just holding you back. But here’s a question? Who’s telling this story and why?

Yesterday Sally made the point that sex is the capitalist market’s best method for selling just about everything. We make fun of the commercials with the girls in bikinis selling some totally unrelated product…and then we go and buy that product. Maybe that’s the most damning thing about our current world – the reason that these incredibly degrading advertisements keep coming…is because they are working.

Our church partners with a ministry that helps rescue girls from sexual slavery in other parts of the world, because we know that we shouldn’t sell sex. It is too sacred. But the ugly truth is that we are exposed to selling sex everyday, because Madison Avenue knows what we don’t talk about.

Sex still sells.

Do you remember what Jesus says to the woman at the well in John 4? Does it surprise you how quickly Jesus gets into her sex life? Not just to fix her, but because Jesus is going to go directly to the parts of our lives where our hearts are.

It’s important to remember that Jesus isn’t trying to take anything away from us. He’s trying to give us the best possible way to be human. And to the woman who is struggling to find “the one,” Jesus’ solution isn’t to try and fix her marriage(s) – it is to give her Himself.

The Idolatry of the Family

Listen, I affirm the classic Christian view of sexuality, however, I don’t think that most Christians have any idea how much that view actually challenges all of lives/marriages/relationships.

And that brings me to why, I think, the American Church has had such a problem talking to the LGBT community.

Rockwell picture

Think about the way Churches talk. Think about how many sermon series, and blogs, and all the Christian books you’ve heard about how to have a “Christian Marriage” or how to have a better “sex life in marriage.”  We’ve even got Christian bookstores called “Family Christian.”

In fact, if you are a celibate, single Christian, or if your experience is as a sexual minority trying to follow Jesus, it is incredibly difficult to belong fully to a church.  And from time to time you might even wonder, “If Jesus was a single man, who was known for being friends with prostitutes and friends with both men and women alike….is it really Jesus we are worshipping?”

We’ve reacted to the kind of Victorian prudish Christians we saw before us and we’ve arrived at a place of idolatry.

We’ve reached for Jesus and sometimes we’ve actually grabbed something more like Norman Rockwell’s vision of the American family.

I think one of the reasons that the American Church and the LGBT community have had such problems having productive conversations is because often what the Church has been guilty of saying is “You can’t worship the same idols we worship.”

What we really should be saying is that while sex is a good thing, and family is a gift from God, it is also a dangerous thing. Like all good things, it can be made into an idol very easily.

Part of the reason the church has responded so poorly to the gay community is because we (along with many others) have placed the weight of worship on sex. And sex, even the best sex, can’t bear that weight.  Most churches I know, have very little problem welcoming people who wrestle with greed or a bad temper, but if you’re divorced or a sexual minority it’s hard for us to know what to do with you.

It’s why two weeks ago, Jeff Childers and I, after preaching about God’s gift of singleness and celibacy, found ourselves surrounded by single Brothers and Sisters saying, “We’ve never heard that sermon before.”

Because idolatry has lots of symptoms.

Now I happen to have a pretty good life, and a family, and a wife, all of whom I love very much. But, on my better days, I don’t love them as much as I love Jesus.  

And if that sounds harsh, then we really need to reconsider what it means to be Christian.

The Christian response to any and all kinds of sexuality is discipleship. If you believe in historic Christian theology, then you believe that your body is not your own. You didn’t make it, you don’t sustain it, and ultimately you aren’t going to raise it.

Your body belongs to God.

And so does His Body…the Church.

And I think Jesus wants His Body to look a lot more like Him.

Because reading through the Gospels, it seems like Jesus’ first response to everyone was always one of love and kindness.

So here’s what we challenged people to do at Highland…We believe that the Church and LGBT community overlap in certain places, and one of them is the Anti-Bullying initiative. If you are a Jesus person then you are committed, not to a position or sound byte, but to a posture of being for people.

Following Jesus means you are called to not laugh at those jokes, to not allow someone to be shamed and ridiculed, we are called to stand up for people on the margins in loving and kind ways.

And just like Jesus, we are called to honor the image of God in everyone.

 
 

10 Thoughts

  1. I would be interested in how we begin this new process described of screening out the “sinners” before we let them “infiltrate” our church. A cursory reading of the Gospels tells us Jesus did the opposite. I was a Church of Christ preacher for many years and there was a very mature hard working Godly woman who was a notorious gossip who tore that church apart. People came to me regularly in tears and said, “I can’t take it anymore, we love you and your preaching but she is such a wolf in sheep’s clothing and her good works hide her from everyone. We have to go worship somewhere else.we cannot be around her”. I tried many times talking to her very intently and told her directly about the people she ran off. One time in a fairly large Bible class she actually said, “I don’t care what the Bible says, Brother “….” said” ….” and so that’s what I believe. Had I tried to “dis-fellowship” her, it would have done even more damage. When I tried to talk to her, she didn’t even slow down. That church is now dead.

    I currently minister with a gay couple who have been in a loving, monogamous relationship for 15 years. One is a doctor; the other is a tech whiz. They make good money. They give over 20% of their income to the poor. Their life is full of the fruit of the Spirit, unlike the “good Christian woman” I described. They are so happy and live lives filled with Love, joy, peace, patience…sound familiar? They are two of the Godliest people I have ever known. They treat other people the way they want to be treated. They are generous and caring and Christ like in every way and are also “good Church folk”. Who is the sheep and who is the goat? You are exactly right, sin is sin. But is sin really all about who people love, are we deputized to “judge” and to be “the sex police”. As was suggested in the presentation and as the Bible clearly states, there are over 400 admonitions about the sins of “straight people” and six ambiguous passages about same sex activity but not a word about orientation… One passage misused is about gang rape… a common practice in ancient times that had nothing to do with sexual orientation and everything to do with humiliation. It was the exact opposite of hospitality. Read Ezekiel 16:49 to hear the Word of the Lord about the Sin of Sodom (nothing is said about Gomorrah and same sex). As for the other Old Testament passages which are a part of the 613 commandments of the Levitical Code, Paul said that was nailed to the Cross, Colossians 1. I was taught that as a Church of Christ kid when I was about 8 years old.

    I find the contrast of the people I mentioned above Biblically compelling. Jesus said, “By the fruit you can tell a good tree from a bad tree” (my translation) I see decades of bad fruit in the woman I described and many years of a harvest of good fruit in my two gay friends. Jesus criteria, not mine.

    This forum has not yet addressed the major theological re-examination of the grand total of six “clobber passage” found in the text about same sex activity (not orientation) and the fact that Jesus is utterly silent. Many come to this forum with an absolutist idea about those sparse and ambiguous passages and START there instead of starting with the first and second greatest commandments. Are we treating other people (gay or straight) the way you would want to be treated? Is THAT where we all start? Jesus says in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 7:12) and Paul repeats in Galatians 5:14 (just to cite a two of many passages) that when we treat other people with unconditional love and acceptance, as Christ has loved us, as God so love the WORLD (not Christians or people who have already repented) it is then, as Sally has suggested, everything else falls into place. ONLY when we START there, can the more difficult conversations be had. Thanks

  2. Hi Jonathan,

    I just watched the video of yours and Sally’s talk and thought it was an excellent handling of the subject. I will be recommending others to watch it.

    I wish you both every blessing as you continue in your service to the Lord.

    Regards.

    Bernard

      1. Thanks Sally. Be encouraged. The Lord has gifted you with understanding, wisdom and a genuine care for people, and together with your personal experience, he will use you to greatly bless others. Bernard.

  3. I appreciated the presentation led by Sally Gary and Justin Storment, especially the long needed broadening of the topic past the ambiguous and under scrutinized passages regarding same sex activity (not orientation) in the Bible. The Levitical Code never applied to Christians and Colossians 1 clearly teaches that even for Jewish Christians those 613 onerous commandments were fulfilled by Jesus as he promised in the Sermon on the Mount and “nailed to the Cross” according to Paul. The fact that hyper sexualization and the deputization of church folks as the “sex police” are being addressed by folks like you is indeed refreshing. However, the undertone that all gay people are gay because they are “broken” is not. All people are broken; most of those broken people are straight, not gay. Paul states clearly that, in his scriptural opinion, being married is not optimal unless one cannot abstain from sex and has the Spiritual Gift of Celibacy. On the other hand, God said “it is not good that man should be alone” and provides the first straight man with a straight woman for rather obvious reasons. One of their grand kids was likely gay. We are a part of God’s creation as well. We have always been here, we are not going anywhere, and the closets of America are finally beginning to empty. When most of us are out, people will be shocked. God’s intended, created order is filled with gay people of every tribe, nation, ethnicity and origin. Unless, like Mahmud Ahmadinedschad, you believe there are no gay people in Iran.
    We are diverse and the sad stories of drag queens going to Seattle are a bit of a canard and an exception, not the rule. I am sad for your friend but of the hundreds of gay people I know, very few are like him. Maybe it is because I don’t come from small town Arkansas.
    So a “one size fits all” answer for the vast diversity of gay people won’t work. The sad examples you used in your presentation do not represent the hundreds of highly successful, happy, fulfilled and madly in love couples I know, nor the happy, accomplished, fulfilled single and dating people I also know. Hyper sexualization is a problem for straight and gay people, but that just even things out before the hard questions get asked. That’s a good thing, not a criticism. I applaud that part of your approach and agree wholeheartedly that the problem with straight marriages is straight people. In my own life, the kinds of misconceptions about marriage that Sally referenced had, from my viewpoint, a huge and negative influence on my marriage that was toxic and terminal. So the word of caution here is that you cannot come up with an answer for a wide diversity of straight people and a wildly different answer for a smaller but just as diverse group of (worldwide) hundreds of millions of gay people. God has never worked with a double standard. Gentiles do this…Jews do something different. Galatians makes this clear. Just add the obvious to what is already in the spirit of the passage, “neither Jew nor Greek, male nor female, slave nor free, gay nor straight, all are one in Christ Jesus (unless you are gay, then you are broken in a special way and millions of you must be celibate whether you have the gift or not…never, ever, have sex). That won’t work with straight people for the same reason it won’t work with straight people. It isn’t God’s plan. That is not Good News…it is terrible news to an 18 year old boy.
    You also didn’t have time to acknowledge the fact that there are more and more churches full of straight and gay people who are doing just fine and who have no more and no less problem reconciling a happy and fulfilling sex life with loving God with all their hearts and treating other people the way they want to be treated, and trusting that, as Jesus said, when you live your life according to the first and second greatest commandments, the” law and prophets” are fulfilled (i.e. everything else falls into place). You did not come right out and say Christians who are gay also must have the Spiritual Gift of monogamy, but I am sure that question has been posed to you before.
    Is there room in your conversation for those of us who say, “My sexual orientation is a part of God’s plan for my life because my God isn’t cruel”?
    I am an ACU M.Div graduate and from a third generation Restoration Movement family but you all abandoned me some time ago. It is refreshing to see you revisit the issue but I am frankly concerned about what you are telling those students seeking community, solace and comfort behind closed doors. If everyone is being told to be lifelong virgins, you might want to look at the Catholic Church and see how that has worked for them as they imposed the rare gift given by the Holy Spirit to a chosen few on everyone who wanted to be clergy. It was folly and led to disaster upon disaster and underground sex hookups, lying, abuse, and all manner of misconduct.
    What happens when that very special gift granted only to a few gets imposed on everyone who has same sex attractions? Those two things are no more related than eating meat and being a follower of Christ. The Holy Spirit grants the gift of Celibacy for reasons not fully explained to us but the rarity of the gift IS fully acknowledged. It is utterly unbiblical to tell huge and vastly diverse group of people that all of them have also been given this Gift of the Holy Spirit because of their same sex attraction. You plant that seed and that tree will bear bad fruit. We already know that for a fact from our Catholic friends. They are reaping the whirlwind of a terrible crop that should never have been planted and is utterly unbiblical.
    I am jumping to conclusions. Please tell me I am wrong.
    I welcome the conversation should you ever decide to engage me. In the meantime, is there a “safe place” in Dallas currently where I could have a conversation? I work full time as a Pastor, I am openly gay and, Praise God, I am able to live my life with total integrity and honesty, so perhaps the safety would be that of the person to whom I might talk.
    In the meantime, I look forward to hearing about your move to Dallas. I live in University Park not far from what I believe is still the Preston Road Church of Christ.
    Thanks

    1. Allen, thank you for your thoughts and I would love to sit down over lunch, coffee, dinner – or all three! – and continue this conversation. As I said in the video from the very beginning, what Jonathan and I said in those ‘brief’ 40+ minutes doesn’t even begin to cover the tip of the iceberg in this conversation. I love that I get to flesh out more of this conversation in the work I do with CenterPeace, helping church leaders and families wrestle with questions that are long overdue in our fellowship. That’s the conversation that I look forward to having with you – hearing your story as you’re willing to share with me, hearing your perspective, hearing your obvious heart for God. Please know how sorry I am for the abandonment you experienced. I look forward to getting together soon, Allen – just let me know when & where!

      1. Thank you for your kind and gracious reply Sally. What is the best way to contact you? I signed up with CenterPeace so you have my contact information through them and I am not comfortable posting it here, due to some of the comments already posted, but I would welcome an extended conversation with you soon. The only limitation on what I have been willing to share has been from the Church of Christ side of the fence. Out of the hundreds of people I called friends, from the highest levels of the Church and ACU and Pepperdine and on down, you are the first to ever ask to hear my story. The only limitation is “how much time do you have to hear about 1999-2013?” Let me know how to set up a meeting. Thanks again for your gracious reply.

  4. Well, to me the difficulty is not in welcoming someone who struggles with sexual sin- it is in welcoming those who say that homosexuality is normal and not sinful behavior. Either it is sinful behavior and should be discouraged – or it should not. Just like all kinds of sin should be discouraged and repented of….. It is fine to say we accept murders – but not if they want to keep murdering people….. it is fine to accept liars – but not if they continually lie and think it’s o.k. to lie —- it is fine to accept greedy people – but not if they want to remain greedy ( which brings up a good question, a how do you determine if someone is greedy or not – which is has always interested me – is greed so ingrained in the American culture that we can’t judge correctly anymore? …. and who is is the greed policeman, anyway?) ….. anyway, surely it must be figured out….. So, there has to be some standard or norm to group functioning or we can’t judge anything or anyone (not condemnation of ones eternal situation) but positive criticism in order to help) and it all becomes nonsensical……

    1. Jeff, thanks for taking the time to express your thoughts in response to Jonathan’s blog post. Being a Christ-follower always calls us to transformation, which is an on-going, lifelong process, in which we become more and more aware (hopefully) of all the ways God calls us to be more in line with the character of Jesus. Undoubtedly there are areas of my life that don’t “measure up” to the way that God calls me to live, but my inclusion within the church, the very Body of Christ, serves the purpose of helping me become aware of those places in which God calls me to live differently. If I have to be fully aware and agree with everyone else as to what those areas are before I get to come in and be included, chances are great that I’ll never be a full participant, and thus miss something that God may want me to see about myself. The fact is, each one of us brings aspects of our character into the Body every day, every week, that don’t fully match the life of Jesus that we’re called to – but the desire to be like Him is sincerely there. What constitutes greed to me may look slightly different than your view, yet we’re able to worship together, to live in close fellowship together, and the same can be said for other sins. The longer I live, the more I realize there are very few things that are so easily discerned, so matter-of-fact-ly black and white. All the more reason I cling to God’s grace, His presence to guide me – and I cannot do that disconnected from the Body of Christ.

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