Protestant Planks – A Lesson in Grace

Featured, Social Justice — By on May 27, 2010 at 11:15 am

Two headlines weave through my mind as I consider what our current evangelical quandary means for the larger scope of Christianity. “Knapp comes out” and “Waltke resigns.”  While the Catholic Church is embroiled in one of the most scandalous and damaging seasons in my life, we Protestants have ours.  My heart is heavy as I write this because we have made such a mess over two pet doctrines.  Lest we point fingers at those “pedophiles” we need to carefully consider our own blemishes.  The proverbial plank blinds me from seeing much else wrong in other religious traditions at present.  So, I proceed to consider what the state of our faith and our pursuit of social justice entails in the midst of two stories which both illustrate the lengths and widths of our plank.

First, Jennifer Knapp’s recent admission of her sexual preference.  I cannot help but remember Philip Yancey’s relationship with Mel White in this conversation.  I am betraying my sentiments early in this if you are familiar with What’s So Amazing About Grace? The initial questions and doubts surfaced in my heart and mind when I read the headlines.  How could she?  I loved her music.  She is so talented.  What does this mean for her upcoming album?  Can she really be a homosexual Christian musician?

I had to research this story further and eventually landed upon Knapp’s Facebook page.  And there, I really was surprised at what I saw.  Surely there would be her fans right?  I mean it is her own Facebook page.  Shouldn’t she have some support on her own page?  To my grief, I read comment upon comment reading something like, “I love your music, but I can’t support your sinful lifestyle” or “I am not going to buy your new album.”  To some people’s credit there were comments about Knapp’s courage and words of praise for openness and transparency that is so rare for a celebrity of her status.

The dimensions of the proverbial plank are first defined tragically by the heated debate over homosexuality within Protestantism.  Considering this first story from a perspective of social justice immediately suggests why Yancey and White are so pertinent all these years later. Yancey had been friends with Mel White without the least consideration of his sexual struggles. White’s disclosure rocked Yancey’s mind.  But it demonstrates a tremendous principle in Christian friendship.

I believe it is safe to assume that most of us have friendships that do not center on sexuality as a basis for connection.  Consider your closest friends and consider how often your sexual life is a topic of conversation with them.  Even the most intimate of friendships seldom delve into this realm of life. So, when a person like Knapp openly admits her sexual preferences, there has to be shock.  Not just for the object of her affections, but for the openness which is increasingly rare in our media saturated society.  Admission of guilt is the norm.  Preemptive honesty is virtually extinct.  Especially for an artist such as Knapp who is a former Grammy nominee.

So given this understanding, she must be commended for her tremendous bravery.  Her interview is amazingly candid.  As I read her responses, I could feel the pain and anticipation in her words.  She is a human first, not just a sexual preference.  The first corrective measure to cut down the plank has to be a restructuring of our thinking about homosexuals as complex people.  Their faith in God is no different.  Their Bible is no different.  Knapp is a beautiful Christian woman whose journey is a fascinating study.  We have a lot to learn about her willingness to reenter a music career with a clear conscience which is not living a duplicitous our secretive lifestyle.  She deserves to be commended for this, not disparaged.

Her confession that she is not in a church presently disheartens me.  Not for the obvious reasons.  I just wonder if she feels like she would be welcome.  I do not know of another personal struggle that would warrant an ostracism like that of homosexuality.  Is this really what the Christ-like response would be?  Come to me all you who are weary, . . . Oh, but not if you are attracted to the same sex . . .  and I will give you rest.  I cannot help but imagine that Knapp has been weary.  She needs the rest of Christ evidently.  But we do not extend her this grace because we cannot condone her lifestyle.  Really? Are you serious, Mr. Evangelical holier-than-thou? When did Christ’s gracious call to rest have a sexuality clause?  I have never read that in my version of Matthew’s gospel.

And then there is the second dimension of the plank – evolution. Waltke’s endorsement of creation by evolution has created an equally turbulent discussion within similar circles.  One of the greatest Old Testament minds embraces evolution.  This is no news since he has published it previously.  However, it is a sad commentary upon the state of our Christianity and a gripping study in the potency of the online media.  Ironically, Christians are less likely to pick up a commentary on Genesis, but they can watch a video clip which traversed through the Evangelical blogs and hot spots with blazing speed.  Waltke embraces evolution!  Round up the troops, we’ve got another target.  First Knapp and now Waltke.  Homosexuality and Evolution.  The spiritual blood hounds have had a heyday this past couple of weeks.

My admiration for Waltke soars after his amazingly gracious retraction of the video and eventual resignation from Reformed Theological Seminary.  A man whose body of work is truly astounding has to back away from his career, his sphere of influence, and yet he never casts blame.  He chooses the higher ground.  My hero.

This situation in many ways is even less just than Knapp’s treatment. How we can judge Knapp is tragic, but it is somewhat understood since we are all sexual beings.  Maybe we can claim some moral high ground in matters of sexuality, in our more legalistic moments.  How we judge Waltke is just flat out wrong.  If the average person who casts judgment upon Waltke spent as much time and energy studying the Hebrew text of Genesis as Waltke has there would be complete equity.  But, alas, the judgment falls upon one of the great minds today and there is nothing but ignorance and arrogance in the judge’s seat.

A second whack at the plank needs to be considered here.  Have we read, have we worked, have we made our due diligence to know the facts before casting judgment?  Restructuring our thinking about science will take some time and energy focused upon opposing arguments. Rather than reading the same pat answers which are based upon Christian presumptions, there must be serious reflection about what science says about the Earth’s origins.   One must also seriously study the Biblical record – research in original languages, research in ancient Hebrew culture and mythology, research in creation accounts from other religions, etc.  There must be honest labor before a man such as Waltke can be justly evaluated.

Yet we have two remarkable individuals sitting on the “wrong” side of their respective fences standing out as examples of candor, poise, and grace.  The injustice in these two cases is evident to me.  We need to step back and in our pursuit of social justice for the impoverished and racially oppressed for just a few moments and add two more categories which need a voice.  What about the wrongly judged and criticized such as Knapp and Waltke?  Who will cry for them?  I hope to be one voice of many that would at least give us pause to consider this issue more carefully before stones are cast and the Church castigates any more beautiful minds such as Knapp and Waltke.

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    68 Comments

  • JamesW says:

    Is it OK to be intolerant in the name of tolerance? It appears so, to read this piece. You have many statements here which contradict themselves. They’re all over the place, so I won’t attempt to segue. I’ll just list ‘em.

    1. I don’t see what’s wrong with someone saying “I love your music, but I can’t support your sinful lifestyle”, if that person believes it’s sinful. I would be against someone saying “I can’t be your friend because of your sin”, but that’s not what they’re saying.

    2. You keep mentioning Catholicism vs. Protestantism, and you seem to include Knapp as a Protestant issue. Even though she doesn’t have a church home now, she did say, when she was issuing those first few albums, that she was Catholic. Not that important, but just sayin’.

    3. You say that Waltke was “gracious” and “never cast[s] blame”, but in fact, the statement that started this mess was not that he said evolution was correct, but that those who do not buy into evolution must be members of a cult. That’s as judgmental, intolerant, and ungracious as it gets.

    4. You, like many these days, like to quote was Jesus was all about when it comes to loving and forgiving, but what about the times when Jesus said not to tolerate sin in individuals who are professing believers? Luke 17:3 “if thy brother sin, rebuke him; and if he repent, forgive him.” See that? Rebuke those who sin. Don’t ignore it and pretend it isn’t sin. Those words are in red. Do they count for anything?

    5. Finally, you mention the part about throwing stones. An obvious allusion to the adulteress who Jesus rescued by telling the legalists to get off her case unless they had never sinned. But if you cite a story, you lose credibility if you cherry-pick only the parts you like. And the next line after He told those guys about the first stone was to her “go and sin no more” (John 8:11). That’s in red, too. Does it count for anything? If I’m reading it right, we are not to stone Knapp, but there is nothing wrong with saying, verbally, that her sexual relationship is sin.

    I’m on record here are being very critical of the ways Christians have treated gays throughout history (www.middletree.net/hs.asp). But if I am reading you correctly, you are for the pendulum swinging too far in the other direction. Pretending a homosexual relationship is Ok is not following Jesus’ directives, and it isn’t doing Knapp any favors, either.

    • Wow! Thanks for your ample reply. I’ll try to briefly address this.
      1. Sure it’s okay to disagree with someone’s lifestyle, but is Facebook really the best place to address this? The context is problematic since it is from people who have no connection to her judging her.

      2. Thanks for the insight. I just think we need to be careful as Protestants to not so easily cast blame on Catholics when there are issues among us that we need to reflect upon. Jennifer Knapp is not the issue here. It is the judgmental spirit among Protestants that is.

      3. He graciously departed without raising hell. That’s my point.

      4. Sure there is a time and place to confront sin. Do you really think that cyberspace it that time and place? That’s pretty odd. Jennifer Knapp needs her inner circle to work with her. Why do we have to be self-designated judges or counselors in a public arena?

      5. Okay say it is wrong. My whole point is time and place. Judge not lest ye be judged is in red, too, so that’s what I’m hitting upon here.

  • JamesW says:

    By the way, I read the Christianity Today article you linked to, and she does come across as everything you said. She’s very impressive, not militant, not hateful. I disagree with her theology, of course (the thing she says about 5 threads is ridiculous), but she did come across as humble, not trying to beat others over the head with her stance.

  • One last thought is there is a slew of voices critical of her outspoken sexuality, but I wonder how many of those critics have their own sexual vices? Something to consider before we so quickly resort to our favorite forums and spew our ideas and judgments.

    • JamesW says:

      If nobody who ever sinned were able to call out the sin of any other believers, then who were those verses targeted to?

      As for the points you made earlier, i guess that Facebook may not be best, and some of the comments were clearly out of line. But isn’t Facebook a place to post viewpoints?

    • Good points, both of you. I think it’s not a matter of condemning versus ignoring someone’s sin, but a matter of knowing the proper context in which to confront someone, and how to do so gracefully, out of loving humility instead of pride, while supporting the person as a human being.

  • I in no way am advocating the suppression of public expression. I just feel as Christians we are called to a higher standard that includes grace in addition to our more common approach to declaring truth. Thank you for your insightful comments. I appreciate your challenges.

  • Jules says:

    Who told us Jesus “directives” anyway? Sometimes hard to tell if it’s truly his spirit, his words or maybe just history and culture. Just a thought.

    And why on earth should a beautiful relationship, a bond held together by emotions and personal decisions, between two persons in which Christ is the centre, and love is the highest of all commandments and the way everything falls into place, be a sin? The Bible certainly doesn’t say that. All Hebrew and Greek speaking people might agree.
    Because the Bible doesn’t know a thing such as the idea of homosexuality what we have in mind. That was invented in the 19th century – a relationship between to people of the same sex based on love not just on sexual acts or rituals or cults as it was back in the days. Just a thought.

  • pam says:

    Really,,,,The bible is clear on right and wrong. We need to love the sinner not the sin. The sin is not to be accepted and christians are not to conform to the world. Sometimes, it seems, we educate ourselves so much we now think we know more than Jesus. Double talk is just confusing. Either you are for homosexuality or you see it as wrong. The bible is clear on God’s thoughts towards homosexuality! The world is clear too, they portray christians as those who hate when we speak out against their lifestyle. Also, the bible is clear on those who practice such will not enter the kingdom of heaven. Christians struggle with all sorts of sins, sexual and otherwise but we don’t promote them and start trying to say they are okay with God.

    • EmilyTimbol says:

      Pam, here’s the thing. Would you admit that you are a sinner, who struggles with sin on a daily basis? That there are things that you know are wrong that you still tend to do? Do you agree that the Bible has many, many verses that tell us things are sins that we say “oh that was cultural” or “oh that is figurative languge” or “no, this is what it really meant?” Or do you literally pluck out your eye everytime you sin, stay completley silent when you’re in church, cover your head, and give all your money to the poor? Probably not.

      The problem with the line of thinking your expressing is that it singles out one “sin” (I put it in quotes, because like Jules said, there is many scholarly articles about what the literal Greek and Hebrew words translated into “homosexuality” and “lusted for eachother” really mean) and makes it an absolutle, black and white, do it and you can’t be Christian thing. I hardly think somoene would tell me that if I struggled, daily, with anger, gossip, or greed, yet faithfully followed Christ, that I was damned to hell. Yet people do that constantly to gay Christians. It is horribly erroneous to tell someone that they can’t be a Christian and be gay. There is no Biblical support for that, unless you also want to expand that position to people who are afflicted with the desires followed in the passages that mention homosexuality.

      And like Michael, or Larry, I’m not sure who, said, you can’t “love the sinner, hate the sin” when the “sin” is part of the identity of the person.

    • JamesW says:

      Emily, I’m in agreement that nobody should verbally assign hell to anyone, including gays. Our eternal destiny is based upon our acceptance of Jesus as Savior, and nothing less.

      That said, one doesn’t need bring up hell when pointing out sin in the life of a friend (or public figure who is making her own theology public) who’s a believer. And I disagree with you that nobody who has any sin in their life can do so. In fact, God directs us to do exactly that. Hold each other accountable. To not avoid mentioning sin in other believers’ lives. When God wrote all those verses (and there are many) telling us to not ignore sin in fellow Christians, surely He knew that He was telling imperfect people to do so.

    • I am not sure about the clarity of the Bible as you are since the Bible is interpreted by us and for us. Thanks for reading and commenting.

    • Steve says:

      Nobody is saying you are not entitled to your opinion, but just remember to express it with love.

      If you can show me a single example of Christ condemning a sinner for their sin I will too. He did condemn some, who were they, let me think, the religious folks of the day.

      Christ came to give us victory. Victory over sin, AND victory over the “righteous”.

  • Danny Hotea says:

    Michael,

    First off, I can’t thank you enough for writing this. It hit me like a truck. And I loved it.

    To Paul and Pam, and those of us who share similar sentiments, I assume both (all) of you love Christ. I assume, also, that both (all) of you love justice, rightness, the way things should be. That’s good. I agree. Amen. Hallelujah. Yes. Let’s get right with God. Let’s walk on the straight and narrow. Everyone of us.

    While we’re doing that, I would encourage a spirit of groveling humility in light of the fact that each and every soul is tainted, rotten, damned and despicable on account of actions, thoughts and feelings that are in direct opposition to the law and nature of Almighty God Himself.

    I’m sayin’ that if finger-pointing were illegal, I’d have nubs. And I think you would too!

    I believe, strongly, that the whole mess of pointing out sin in each others’ lives has everything to do with tone. With the WAY it’s done. With the TIME it’s done in/at. Timing and tone.

    When comparing the tone of Christ’s interaction with conscious sinners (whores, tax collectors, fisherman, lepers, beggars) and the tone of His interactions with lawyers, scribes, Pharisees and the like, there is an apparent cacophony. He “had words” with the later. He “spoke” to the former. Sinners felt “comfortable” around Him. Yes. Comfortable.

    Why comfortable? Because He tore them a new one every time they chatted? Because He viciously reminded them of the lake of fire, His eyes glowing brightly with anticipation at the thought of watching their flesh melt in response to the righteous indignation of, of Him? Of God?

    How do we “speak” to sinners? As friends? As brothers and sisters in the flesh first, and the spirit also? I fear that my judgement of so many others will be the basis for my own damnation. I fear that in a real way. If God’s grace extends beyond my idiocy and arrogance I can be saved from my just punishment. If not, there’s no hope for me. None for you, either.

    Romans 3:9-20 says it.

    I repent. Right now, I ask God to forgive me, again, for the hideous darkness that emanates from within me toward others in a way that says, “my way is better, I can do this, why can’t you?”

  • Danny Hotea says:

    Sorry, Paul = JamesW.

  • Matthew says:

    Michael:

    I appreciate your article and agree with your sentiment regarding Waltke. However, I’m not so quick to find agreement with your observations on Knapp and the issue of homosexuality.

    I completely disagree with how homosexual behavior is disparaged and signified as a separate sin needing particular focus and energy by evangelicals. But, unlike other sins, homosexuality is one where some contemplate the “plank” and others celebrate the “plank”.

    When any sinful behavior is celebrated or is used as an adjective to describe somebody, that sinful behavior is more than an act, it becomes an idol. This concerns me for the simple reason that it seems to indicate the quenching of the Holy Spirit because people celebrate their sin rather than remain convicted of it.

    I write this with full admission that we cannot know the internal struggles of anyone but ourselves. However, as the Church, we need to be mindful of how we treat people. We need to love one another and sometimes love is expressed with concern, rebuke and correction. We often like to focus on the not judging parts of Scripture, but tend to leave out the responsibilities the church has to correct people when their behavior is destructive.

    • Your reasoned remark is greatly appreciated. I suppose my question lies in the use of sins as adjectives.

      Consider:
      person who lies = liar
      person who kills = murderer
      person who commits adultery = adulterer
      person who is attracted to the same sex = homosexual

      All of these would be idols in your reasoning. Is this a fair assessment of your comment? If so, then we are all idolaters according to Jesus. So where is the issue?

    • annie says:

      Michael, the part of your response (and the church’s stance, at large) I don’t think adds up is

      person who is attracted to the same sex = homosexual

      In my mind, this doesn’t compare to the others in that we wouldn’t call someone a liar if they were attracted to lying. We wouldn’t call someone an adulterer or a murderer for being tempted. We wouldn’t even call a person promiscuous for wanting heterosexual sex with varying partners, as long as they didn’t engage in it. Yet, if someone was doing all or any of those things, we wouldn’t question the right to hold them accountable within the correct context, for both their spiritual health, and the health of the community.

      If any of them were claimed as a primary identifier, I would suspect them as idols, at least in my own heart. However, on this one issue we seem to have named the experience of being tempted as equal to engaging the behavior, while we judge the others in a completely opposite way, often giving a free pass for our thought-life as long as we control external behavior. I’m not sure either one is Biblically accurate.

      I would love it if, as Christians, we could change the vernacular of this issue and the way that we discuss it, as it seems like that betrays the errors in our theology and serves as a big part of the problem. I’m not sure how we do that, but it seems important

    • Annie, I appreciate your corrective remarks. I really value this statement, “often giving a free pass for our thought-life as long as we control external behavior.”

      Thought life is such a key aspect of spiritual health that is much more difficult to address since it is entirely under one’s own personal control and it is what Jesus targets particularly in his teachings on morality.

      Thank you for contributing toward the improvement of this general discussion.

    • Xiomara says:

      Well, I see that I either take your ooipinns about the nature of homosexual desires on faith in their correctness, or I take the ooipinns of those I linked on faith in their correctness. I will stick with my skepticism about the settled nature of such claims.I also realize that I failed to mention the other reason I am hesitant to jump on that bandwagon. I know from my studies of church history that there have been many times when the believers of the world espoused certain moral behaviors (often with Scripture to back them up!), yet the believers of the next generation (or century) repudiate that claim. Each such generation had their reason clouded by the spirit of the age. The only advantage that this generation has is that our minds are not clouded by the spirits of past ages; our minds are clouded by the spirit of the current age.I am a strong proponent of the use of reason to sort out the details of such issues, but I hesitate to elevate the moral sensibilities of any age above the eternal moral sensibilities of Christ, to the best that I understand them. Thus, I fully agree with you when you say that a response to homoseuxal driven by hate and prejudice (the kind of response that ended the artistic career of Oscar Wilde, as well as the scientific career of Alan Turing) is wrong.However, in knowing that past generations have only seen through a glass darkly, I also note that this generation does also. Thus, I agree with Moses (and a nutty converted Pharisee who took up the name Paul) when they say that homosexual behavior is an abomination before God–like adultery, fornication, lying, thieving, blasphemy, and a host of other sins.Some men are born with a predilection towards great physical courage, coupled with the ability to do fearsome deeds of violence. They can use that in the role of a sheepdog, protecting society from predators–or they can use it in the role of the wolf, preying on the defenseless.Likewise, some men are born with a predilection to be attracted to other men. I do not hold that his means I must encourage any sexual behavior that they wish to engage in. (Just as I do not hold that my significant attraction for many members of the fairer sex gives me the right to engage in any sexual act I wish with any of them. Nay, even my enjoyment of their beauty must not –and I have that straight from the mouth of Jesus.)We are all as God made–and some of us are worse, in that we use these gifts to serve the self rather than to serve God.

  • Matthew says:

    Regarding the use of adjectives, people rarely celebrate their identity as a liar, murderer or adulter (and in cases where they do, they are generally shunned by society). It is only homosexuality where the adjective of their behavior is celebrated.

    And yes, we are all idolaters. Anytime anything replaces Christ as our object of worship, we are idolaters. Hopefully, in each instance, we seek repentance and reconciliation.

    • If we all need Christ, I still don’t see why homosexuality has to be treated differently. Porn stars revel in their debauchery. Shouldn’t we at least be equal opportunity judges?

    • All sarcasm intended here. Please don’t assume that I would blatantly contradict what I wrote in my piece.

    • Michael, I completely agree with you that we shouldn’t over-categorize sins so that we can look down on certain ones while ignoring our own, less taboo sins.

      However, I think Matthew’s point about those who sin (all of us) versus those who celebrate their sin shouldn’t be overlooked. When a member of the body of Christ publicly announces a sinful lifestyle and says they have no intention of quitting, they basically become an advertisement for that sin. If a porn star appeared in the Christian community and proudly announced her “great job,” I think Christians would be similarly appalled.

    • I apologize for my snarkiness in this thread, but I am concerned that we are mistaking the case of Knapp with those who may parade in gay pride parades who are flamboyant in their sexuality.

      Knapp demonstrates a poise and a grace that is commendable. I think her example of how to talk about sexuality as a celebrity is really exemplary. I do not see her as flaunting or as celebrating anything. She is sharing her experience and did an interview for Christianity Today since she formerly was considered a Christian artist. She didn’t have to take this interview since she does not consider herself a Christian artist.

      Her consideration of us in light of the controversy of her relationship is really what I want to highlight. The least we could do is extend her some grace in return and appreciate her sensitivity to us.

  • My view of the Bible and how I use it are essential to how I see this issue. I see it as a letter to ME. How am I to show up in the world, how am I to treat others, how am it to respect God, how am I to treat my planet and creation. I follow first the love God directive then the love my neighbor order. If I am not doing those things, it is about ME, not anyone else.
    So, if I show you contempt, that is MY lack. If I treat you poorly out of MY fear, that is MY lack. When I get my act together in front of God, I can love you no matter what you do, who you choose to love and even who you choose to hate.
    I am an advocate for the GLBT community because God called me to it, but He could not have done that if He had not done massive healing in me so that I did not operate in fear. When you learn grace at the deepest level, it seeps out of your pores and pushes those planks out of your eyes. And when you drop the NT Torah out of one hand and the pointing finger from the other, you have two free hands to embrace, guide, and serve.
    When my theology has such rough edges on it that it treats you badly for your theology, there is something wrong with MY theology. And then, I go back to the basic again–love God, love you.
    Dang simple.
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xq1IL3R2ZeU

  • Lisa says:

    I am a woman who identifies as lesbian and as a follower of Christ.

    Discussing this issue in terms of “sexual preference” misses the point and essentializes the sexuality of a gay or lesbian person over the true motivation of their intimate relationships, which is love. Sex is only a manifestation of love and not the motivating force. Typically it’s not the gay or lesbian person that brings up the issue of sex, it’s usually our opponents. Sex is vivid and visceral and if you can get people to focus on sex then you can make them feel disgusted over something that wouldn’t be natural to them and you can effectively dehumanize us.

    But this is about love. Sure, things go wrong, people betray, hurt, and exploit one another, but this is just as true of the nature of straight relationships as gay ones.

    I have many idols in my life that I’m constantly trying to put aside so that I can focus on God and hear Him more clearly. If we’re honest this is the best that any of us can do for now. Being lesbian is not one of those idols. In fact, I frequently forget that I’m gay, I suppose I’m too busy with the stuff of life to spend much time thinking about something that is simply part of who I am.

    I’m calling for a change of conversation. Any honest biblical scholar will tell you that there is simply no clear condemnation of same-gender relationships in scripture. At best there are vague cultural prohibitions. I won’t discuss from a place of presumed guilt (read: sin) anymore. It’s time for those who would condemn my love for the woman in my life to have to justify their desire to tear us apart.

    Enough is enough. This matter, like all things, will be reconciled to Christ and justice will reign. As a man much wiser than me once said “The arc of history is long, but it bends toward justice”.

    • Lisa thank you for making your voice known. I pray that I have not contributed to the problem. My goal in writing this is to address this as a plank in the eye of us Protestants who have dehumanized sexuality. I pray that my thoughts will combine with your life experience to personalize this debate. Name calling is not the character of Christ. Peace to you and to your faith.

  • Pam says:

    Again..I think it is a play on words. Can christians be gay? I really think the issue is…is it sin? The bible is CLEAR that it is. So we just need to be careful to let people think it is okay to keep PRACTICING the sin. When I get angry, do I say it is just who I am or do I go before the Lord and those I may have been angry at and confess it for what it is, sin. I think it is a real issue and we need to be careful of tolerance that equals no conviction of sin. Tolerance that equals treating them like humans who are struggling with a sin is the right way. But coming out and saying there is nothing wrong with their choice of lifestyle is wrong. We need to stand for righteousness. Of course, we are not the judge, only one can JUDGE but the bible does say we will know them by their fruit. Christians today are afraid to stand for what the bible teaches so we dismiss truth by saying we can’t interpret the bible. God made so we can understand it. It is simple. We make it hard when we get in the way. I am by no way saying I do not struggle but I do agree with God’s standard. Some things are figuratively written and some
    are literal, that is why we all still have eyes.

    • Lisa says:

      Pam, I challenge you to read it all again. I grew up believing that there was a biblical case against homosexuality but when I looked at it again (and again and again) and prayed over what I was reading, and read the history, and put it all in context I realized that the bible is, in my opinion (and the opinion of many others), silent on the matter of whether or not being gay is a sin.

      If you want to continue to state that same-gendered relationships are counter the wishes of God then you need to begin to explain why and where and how. Using a baseless platform to condemn a whole group of people in an effort to prevent them from experiencing a life-giving relationship is no longer enough.

      State your case.

    • Lisa, I’m curious as to how you reconcile your views with 1 Corinthians 9-11:

      “Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.”

    • Lisa says:

      Justin,
      Thanks for asking!
      Depending on which translation you read the word “homosexual” or “homosexuality” is never used. Additionally, the concept of “homosexual” has only been a part of language/understanding in the last couple of hundred years. Prior to that it was a behavior and not an inherent nature.

    • annie says:

      Lisa,
      It seems like you’ve highlighted one of the disconnects when we try to talk about this. Some are defining it as a behavior, still, while others an inherent nature. The term may be new, but the concept of “homosexual” is not new, and predates the time of Christ on earth. (Even in the Bible, it is referred to in the Old Testament.) I think what we are seeing people react against, even in these comments, is the claiming of what they are defining as an action or behavior as an identity, and the subsequent cultural shift to the identity predating, in some cases, and even being separate from the act. When it is claimed as identity in this way, and when the definitions of the words which we use to discuss the issue diverge so distinctly, it becomes hard to have clear conversation, and both sides feel attacked and/or defensive, because it’s become about identity, rather than behavior.

      The danger comes in when Christians stop fighting for good conversation in this issue; it can put our whole theology at risk because we start hearing questions like “Can you be gay and be a Christian?” and we aren’t even talking about the same things when we say “gay” and “Christian”. Taken to its logical conclusion, even in the most fundamental definitions, the answer is no (that is not my position, and I don’t think it’s Biblical), then the next reasonable questions are things like “Can one be an alcoholic and be a Christian?” How about a liar? or a gossip? or bitter? tax evasion? speeding?

      Pretty soon we’re all out. I think. I’d be out so early, I can’t be sure. I hope that what a lot of people here (and in the church, although I don’t go to church) are pushing back against is the redefining of identity that you highlight. If our identity is in Christ, and not in our own behavior, good or bad, and not in our sexuality, then the conversation is a totally different one. When we take any behavior and merge it absolutely with desire, and especially when that is claimed and primary identity, it becomes painfully difficult to separate the value of people from the value of their actions, both in conversation and in the hearts of those who bear that identity, and that is in almost complete opposition to the gospel.

    • Lisa, the most accurate translations of the bible are considered the New American Standard Version and the English Standard Version, and both use the word homosexual. One says “those who practice homosexuality” and the other says “homosexual offenders.” Either way it is talking about those who (unrepentantly?) engage in a behavior.

      What translation are you reading?

    • Lisa says:

      Let me begin by saying that I haven’t come to this understanding lightly or on my own. I’ve prayed and read and struggled in search of truth and understanding for years.

      Regarding Corinthians. At the center of the disagreement is the word arsenokoitai. There are a variety of interpretations of this word, scholars aren’t certain or in agreement about what it means and liberties have been taken when it’s translated as “homosexual”.

      As I said above in my first half-hearted response, the term “homosexual” is new in that we now understand it, typically, to describe someone whose sole attraction and intimate loving connection is with someone of the same gender. Prior to the last 100 years or so we understood everyone to be heterosexual and some folks would have same-sex encounters from time to time.

      My research points to the use of arsenokoitai in Corinthians as describing the exploitative concubine-like relationship between an older influential man and a young vulnerable boy. This was a common practice in Paul’s day. The boys would be used for sex until they reached puberty, then they were traded in for a younger model.

      There really isn’t any reason to believe that this passage actually refers to same-sex relationships based on love and commitment. To pretend that it does is a thinly veiled way of misusing the bible to condemn same-gendered relationships.

    • Lisa says:

      Annie,
      I appreciate your comments. It seems like you’ve put a lot of thought into understanding the difference between identity and behavior. I came out well before I ever had any type of physical contact with a woman.

      I have also seen how people will bank their whole theology on this issue (what I see as a peripheral issue at most). And it’s sad when everyone becomes so defensive, though online forums are not the best for compassionate and respectful conversation. I am trying to foster good conversation by pointing out what I see as an unfair condemnation of a group of people based largely on assumptions and not on a thorough investigation of the evidence and a Christ-like way of approaching the people themselves.

      I have to disagree with you though, on the matter of whether or not our understanding of “homosexual” (a word I don’t really like) is the same as it was when the bible was written. I know that same-sex acts were documented but I have yet to learn of any reference to someone who was actually understood to be gay (if you know of one I’d like to look into it). There are places in the world today where this is still not understood. This is almost always a matter of social and religious stigma. I also understand that in different cultures at the time homosexual people were acknowledged, but there’s no evidence that this was true in the areas where biblical authors lived and taught.

      To presume that Paul refers to a loving committed relationship without further evidence seems like a leap to me. Especially in light of the lack of condemnation or clear reference in other important scripture.

    • annie says:

      Again, I think you’ve highlighted that different people, even within these comments, are using the terms differently. Whereas I think of the terms to either define behavior or the pursuit of engaging in behavior, you (I think) are using it as a way to differentiate one’s self through proclamation of sexuality, which seems not only to define proclivity of attraction, but also to define and align socially, to name your group and choose a label (and, perhaps to correct expectation). I think that the thing that I, and many others, find frustrating is the demand that we accept/approve the label instead of the person, and that if we do not do that we are rejecting the person. Once the identity has been claimed, it can feel as though we are never allowed to view the person as distinct from it, even though we routinely do this in other realms of life/personality/relationship.

      I don’t claim that the understanding is the same, but the concept is not new. Gay relationship were common in Greek/Goman society and among the Greek/Roman gods. Aristotle spoke of it being encouraged on some island nations as a valid means of population control. Plato and Plutarch wrote about, and pederasty was considered not only common and acceptable, but a rite of passage. As far as I can tell, arsenokoitai was rarely seen as exploitative, and was commonly accepted, both relationally and educationally.

      Aristophanes narrated an entire explanative lore to why some people are inherently heterosexual and some homosexual. In certain time periods of Japanese history, gay relationships between men were considered the epitome of love. In fact, same sex relationships in Japan and China were largely tied to religion and for many centuries predating the time of Christ and following were not considered something that should be restricted in any way. Monastic vows of chastity did not apply to gay relationships, and gay relationship in monastic centers of worship were commonplace. Sappho is believed to have come after the time of Christ, but her writings are largely what the word lesbian was derived from, and are considered both tender and accurate descriptions of common relationships on the isle of Lesbos.

      While it might seem presumtuous to assume that Paul (who was highly educated, a Roman citizen and aware of surrounding culture, as well as Israel’s call to differentiate itself) was restricting the emotional aspect of committed relationships, but it seems equally presumtuous to say that he was not aware of such relationships and to say that adding conditions/context, even if that may include love and/or commitment, negates the sexual restrictions or gives allowance to something the Bible prohibits in both Old and New Testament.

      That said, I don’t think it’s simple, but in the debate on whether “being gay” is a sin, I’m not sure we spend enough time making sure we are speaking the same language, because I think we’d often find that we disagree about “being” more than “gay”.

    • annie says:

      It’s driving me crazy that I misspelled “presumptuous” twice. I need to get a life, apparently.

  • annie says:

    When this announcement came out I cringed internally, not because of the admission itself, but because of the ridiculous decision I felt faced with. Both sides have contributed to creating a false choice. In this faux black vs. white, buy the album and I’m supporting sin, don’t buy it and I’m committing sin. What is the option for the person who interested in saying neither?

    Not to be overly self-absorbed, but it’s like a brutal game of socio-political capture the flag in which I (and we, as Christians/consumers) am the flag. No chance of winning, and every chance of being crushed in the course of competition.

    As much as I appreciated the openness of Jennifer’s interviews, even more I appreciated the consideration she showed for those she has previously courted as an audience. While still openly Christian, she does not identify herself as a “Christian artist” and is not producing music with a “Christian record company”. In one interview I read, she stated that she didn’t think that would be fair to other Christians, since the Bible is laced in shades of grey on the issue. Rather than demanding absolute acceptance, and thereby possibly forcing rejection, she allows us to be unsure, as she is unsure. Instead of forcing us to identify a position, we are allowed to be in process. Permission is given for faith (and the church) to be a struggle in which we will sometimes be right and sometimes wrong, both of which require grace from God and from each other. In one of the most vulnerable, defining and probably painful times of her life, Knapp made me feel respected and safe to wrestle, whether with her issues or my own. It is a little embarrassing and definitely humbling to be on the receiving end of that kind of generosity. If I ever achieve that kind of love and graciousness, which I have to believe to be divinely derived, I will consider myself blessed.

    • [It is a little embarrassing and definitely humbling to be on the receiving end of that kind of generosity.]

      Beautifully put. This is exactly what I was trying to capture.

  • Steve says:

    Whether we like it or not, this issue is going to define Evangelicals in the next ten years or so. Thought it aggravates me that this issue has become a theological litmus test, we have to figure out a better way forward than the constant back and forth. Michael’s article is a good start.

    The only thing I would add is that we’re incredibly heterosexist. Whether you think homosexual behavior is a sin or not, you have to admit that we focus on it so much more than heterosexual behavior that is clearly unhealthy and/or sinful. Many = become hypervigilant about the lifestyle of any homosexual they know, constantly trying to decide to whether or not they should maintain fellowship. But most of the time we don’t give a second thought to how our heterosexual brothers and sisters are living. At minimum, we need to treat homosexuals and heterosexuals by the same standard and not subject homosexuals to more scrutiny just because of their orientation

    • JamesW says:

      Steve, I agree with you completely. I won’t back down from the idea that homosexuality is sin, or that we are not to pretend otherwise when it comes to professing believers in our lives. But the church has done gays a tremendous disservice by elevating homosexuality above other sexual sins, and there is no excuse whatsoever for doing so.

      That said, many comments here (and on other BSW threads which touch on this topic) seem to want to differentiate homosexuality in the other direction. that is, it’s OK to slam a Christian for any sin except homosexuality. Kind of ironic, actually.

    • Yeah. I’m hoping that more people will find the proper balance in time. We must call all sin what it is, confronting siblings in Christ with love, with no special exceptions (as we like to make for our own sins) nor special malice (as we do to those who struggle with homosexuality).

  • Jim Barringer says:

    After reading this article and the ensuing comments over the course of a week, I have one comment.

    Homosexuality is a hot-button issue, so let’s remove it temporarily from the equation, and try something else on for size. The Bible says quite clearly that we’re not to be in relationships with unbelievers. So if Jennifer’s article was a defense of her impending (heterosexual) marriage to an atheistic Buddhist, what would be the proper reaction?

    By and large, I think the proper reaction to that situation would be (and is, and has been) the same as reacting to her profession of homosexuality. Both are violations of the Bible’s directives on who we’re to be involved with. It would be negligent and unloving of us as fellow believers to let such a thing happen without remarking on it and observing that it is incongruent, for a person who claims to follow the Bible, to willfully embrace a contrary lifestyle.

    To me, that is the major difference between most sins and homosexuality. Many Christian men look at pornography, but I don’t know many who have gone in Christianity Today saying that they’re perfectly fine with that identity and that God probably has no problem with it. Some commenters have observed that we all sin: surely we all do, but I would hope that most of us don’t celebrate it, embrace it as part of our identity, or try and find loopholes to justify our practice of it.

    I think it diminishes the compassion of Christ to say that he accepts such a lifestyle. The greater message is that there is hope and healing for every grip of sin. Several of my college friends, including one man with whom I roomed for two years, are overcoming homosexual attraction as we speak; God is delivering them. Call me a fundie if you want, but I’m just naive enough to believe that God is still in the business of helping people overcome sin.

    • I agree with everything you said. I would only add that we must be careful to measure that we are doing more good than harm by confronting people with whom we have no personal relationship. Even if we are only speaking the truth, we can sometimes accidentally make others feel unloved.

  • Steve says:

    The problem in the “church” is, and has always been, a matter of weights and measures. If I can point out the fact that THAT person over has a sin worse than mine it makes me feel better about all the skeletons in my closet and it gives me a better standing with the man upstairs, at least in the eyes of my brothers.

    This concept isn’t new. The catholic church has an entire hierarchy of sin that us “enlightened” protestants have always pointed out to be ridiculous. A sin is ANYTHING that takes our focus off of our Lord and Savior. A sin is a sin.

    Do we really believe that a sin is a sin, or do we, like the catholic church, rank our sins?

    The answer is clear. We have created a system of levels of sin. The worst sin being any sin of a sexual nature. The second worst being the belief in anything outside of a 7 day creation.

    If Jennifer had come out and said that she had been driven by the desire to make music and money and had not even thought about God in the process, what would the reactions be?

    I’ll be praying for you. God loves you. I know God is working through you.

    Likewise if she said she was overeating, prideful, lying, envious, (insert any sin of a nonsexual nature here.)

    I am not even going to begin to tackle the issue of Christians being gay, but lets be real. We all have sin. If you all REALLY believe this whole Christianity thing, why would you crucify her?

    Why not encourage her? Why not pray for her? Why not stop being so damn judgmental, OR at least pulling out that log in your own eye first?

    The reason that sexual sin is running rampant in the church, and believe me it is, is the ire, the disgust, the rage we show for people struggling with the sin. No one wants to confess their sins to ANYONE when they know they will be placed on the cross for doing so.

    The debt was paid already. Lets not make those suffering pay it again.

    • Jim Barringer says:

      What would happen if Jennifer had admitted to being prideful? Well, that’s really two different questions. What if she said she was struggling with pride and trying to overcome it? I hope she’d be buried in support. What if she said she was prideful, and happy with it, and that even though God said not to do it, she was still going to? The second of those more accurately resembles her stance on her sexual orientation. It’s rather hard to deal compassionately with someone who refuses to acknowledge that they’re committing a sin which requires compassion.

      In principle I agree with your post and with the necessity to treat people as people first. Anything that interferes with our showing love to another person must be the worst kind of sin. However, Jesus and Paul both taught that if a person is confronted about sin and shows no desire to stop it, they should get the cold shoulder. If Jennifer was committed to acknowledging her sin and seeking deliverance from it, we would be shamed if we didn’t rally around her, but as it stands, she’s not really giving us any choices other than to accept her decision at the cost of what God says about sexuality, or else stick by God and come across as unloving. The third alternative, to confess sin while seeking healing, is the alternative she has chosen not to pursue.

    • JamesW says:

      Jim, this was excellent. Well put.

  • Penny says:

    One thing I’d like to insert that hasn’t been touched on.

    If we believe, as it says in John 14:16 – 18:

    “And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Counselor to be with you forever— the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you.”

    that those who accept Christ receive the Holy Spirit, and that the HS guides us into truth, then I think we should spend more time listening to Christians who identify as gay. Most of these folks grew up Christian, realized they were different somewhere in between middle school and college, and still chose Jesus, despite the incredible ostracism and cost that comes when you identify as gay and Christian (they are excluded on both sides). Why have they chosen persecution? Because they love Jesus, just as we do.

    I wonder if we take seriously that most people I have talked to (sincere, gay Christians) who have accepted themselves for who they arem struggled long and hard with reconciling the Church’s teaching and their own internal reality (and eventually, view of Scripture), but felt the prompting of the Holy Spirit to accept themselves as they are, and move on to worship God.

    What would it look like if we engaged gay Christians in conversation about what it’s like to choose to continue to follow Christ despite an almost daily onslaught of ridicule, slander, and bible-thumping? We might not come to the same conclusion, but we would at least dignify their humanity and their place as heirs of Christ.

    • EmilyTimbol says:

      This is exactly my experience, and the only thing that changed my previous belief that “homosexuality is clearly, Biblically wrong, no excuses” to “I don’t know.” Close, personal friendships with Chistians who identify as gay and struggled their whole lives to 1) understand why they were the way they are 2) unsuccessfully overcome their attraction to the same sex and 3) reconcile their relationship with God, is what made me start to really think about how niave and ignorant it was for me to state a black and white position on something I had no experience dealing with.

  • Terminology?

    Lisa and others, what is the best way to refer to homosexuals. Is gay and lesbian preferable or is there another way as a Christian writer that I should discuss this issue without trying to unnecessarily judge? This has been very challenging throughout this process of discussing Knapp and our treatment of her sexual preference.

    • EmilyTimbol says:

      From what I know and have heard, the term “homosexual” is a little bit taboo because typically, when one is using the word “homosexual” they are usually making an argument against/condeming gay people. Homosexual historically denotes something more like a disease, defect, or psychological problem, whereas “gay” is just a description of a persons sexuality. I think, if you truly want to be safe, it’s best to use the word “gay” when referencing those with same-sex attraction.

  • Pam says:

    All scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work. 2 Tim 3:16

    Mike,
    Scripture is the authority and it is sad, very sad to see that where you once believed and held to the TRUTH, you know seem to want to debate and question whether God’s word is Truth. It is very grievous. I of course do not know your heart but I can can read your words. You seem to want to debate with God, not very wise.

    • Well Pam, I seem to have disappointed you or let you down, however I try my best to live according to the grace and truth of Christ. I see this issue much less black and white than you do. If this makes me a compromiser then I accept that label.

      Scripture is essential to us Christians. But there is a key element of interpretation that you seem to be missing in your comments. Scripture is not something that has dropped down from heaven like the Quran. It was written by people, it has been carried down through time by the dutiful preservation of people and it is interpreted by people. I hope you can at least see how this is a huge part of our faith and of this conversation.

    • EmilyTimbol says:

      Pam,
      I disagree 100% with what you just said. The Bible, the God breathed Word of Life, is not clear. It begs for interpretation and debate. That is something solidly held in Jewish tradtion, and Christ, being a Jew, and also being God, was well aware of that. I don’t see how you can be so judgmental and quick to condemn Mike over something he is doing that is Biblical. God is omnipotent, all powerful, omnipresence, and does not do anything “accidentally”, which is why it is surprising me to see you can’t admit that there are parts of the Bible that are intentionally not clear, or at the very least, things God left out to make us question. Like, why does Jesus go from a child to a grown man with nothing written in between? What about the dinosaurs? What happened during those three days when Jesus was dead? Why did Jesus not heal everyone? Why did He let Lazarus die? etc.

      We are meant, as Paul says, to work out our salvation, daily, which we wouldn’t have to do if everything was black and white and clear. I think you might want to examine your own heart on the issue since, if there’s anything I learned from my lifelong study of scripture, it’s that when we think we have all the answers, we’re almost certainly wrong.

  • Jules says:

    A lot of things are being said. And I’m sure and aware, as a lover of christ and a MAN who wants share life and love with another MAN, that this debate will last for very long. But i couldn’t help but sharing those few personal lines with you. From a German perspectives which seems to fit in any other cultural background, too.

    I’m dealing with this issue for more than 10 years now and I went through a lot of tough times, mainly created or pushed by other christians. I learned a lot about true friendships. True community. And true love. Surprisingly, it seems like there really is only one love that will last forever.

    But there is one thing I’d like to ask all of you, who write and speak and use WORDS day by day: Be aware of what you do with them!

    Because sometimes, and I’m sure you are not aware of it and really don’t want to, you really really hurt other people.
    People like me wear scars from others saying: “Homosexuality is a sin.” Not because we can’t see their points of view or don’t want to find out what is right or wrong. But because experienced and we know that we are beloved and forgiven. Because we really tried to get rid of something we never thought it was wrong and it just didn’t go away. Because it seems like we don’t have a problem with ourselves but the world around us has. Because we feel like God wanted us that way and WE JUST DON’T KNOW WHY.

    I love Christ. From the very bottom of my dirty, earhtly and holy heart. He lives in me. And I can’t help but give this love to another men. Divine love. True love. Not just emotions. Not just sex. Not just lust. Not just a cult or a ritual. But the one thing, that will last forever. Can you here me?

    To me, heaven would invade and consume the world, if all of our words and actions would conform to the highest commandment of them all. Love.

    • Amen. I appreciate your heart’s cry. Forgive me if I have been hasty in my choice of words. May the love of Christ fill your life and heal your wounds.

  • Pam says:

    I am not disappointed and I don’t feel let down, just grieved. I’m not judging you just reading your thoughts which lead me to conclude you no longer rely on the word of God as your authority. I am confused as to how your try to live by grace and the truth of God. If the bible, which so clearly speaks of God’s grace and truth are not your authority, where are you learning HIs grace and truth?

    • By the complete life of Christ recorded in the Gospels and Acts.

      Pam, I would strongly encourage you to read the passages of how Jesus treats sinners versus how he treats the religious leaders. He uses two completely different approaches. This is essential to our entire conversation.

  • Sheri says:

    I am a sinner. Saved by grace. The blood of Jesus cleanses me and you. However, If I walk in my flesh and fufill the desires of my flesh, I am not obeying the Spirit of God.

    The heart is deceitfully wicked. Bad thing about deceit: you don’t know your deceived until it is too late.

    To choose to walk cautiously upon my own convictions of black and white should not be condemned either.

    • I hope you don’t feel “condemned” by this conversation. I apologize if that is what you have gathered from this.

      The focus of this piece is intended to be grace. You have all the grace to live according to your convictions. I think the important part of the conversation is to be cautious about drawing judgments without taking time to consider the ways that we all can be hypocritical.

      I believe that some Christians need to live with more boundaries and stronger convictions about secondary issues, but the danger (plank in the eye) comes when one’s own convictions are used as a standard for assessing others behaviors and deeds.

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