Homosexuality and Holy Uncertainty

Comments (34)

Like many preachers I know, I often have stomach cramps on Sunday morning while going through a final sermon review before taking the pulpit. The calling to declare the Word of the Lord to a community is overwhelming, and it puts me trembling on my knees.

Discerning the biblical word concerning homosexuality puts me in that place too.

“That’s silly,” you may say. “The Bible is crystal clear!”

Really?

I suspect that the elders who excommunicated Angelina Grimke from the Third Presbyterian Church of Charleston, South Carolina, in 1829 because she pursued the abolition of slavery considered the Bible to be crystal clear too. I suspect this because she belonged to a congregation in the Reformed tradition, and our tradition (thankfully) takes Scripture very seriously.

I am not writing here to advocate for a particular position concerning homosexuality; I am writing to advocate for a particular posture: holy uncertainty.

Two points:

1. Waiting in uncertainty is an important spiritual discipline that renders a community more available to the leading of the Holy Spirit.

Jesus is the great teacher, but much of his teaching confused his listeners, including the twelve, the Pharisees, and the crowds. Why would our great teacher intentionally create uncertainty?

I see Jesus’ Resurrection Day walk to Emmaus (Luke 24) as paradigmatic here. He could have clarified the two walkers’ despairing confusion about his crucifixion in less than a minute: “Don’t be discouraged! Look—it’s me; the women were right; I have risen!” Instead he preaches a seven-mile-long sermon that still did not take away their confusion. Finally, hours later at the supper table, their eyes were opened.

Why would Jesus spend the majority of the most celebrative day of the Christian faith “unnecessarily” allowing two broken-hearted followers to wallow in uncertainty?

I believe he did it because uncertainty is an important spiritual discipline that both deepens us and makes us available for transformation. And I believe the entirety of the Scriptures from Genesis to Revelation reveals just how often the Lord gave his children no option but to go to places of such uncertainty.

I wonder if we in the CRC are called to be somewhere along that seven-mile stretch of uncertainty concerning homosexuality; I believe that I am. And I wonder if we need some time to recognize how our risen Lord is present with us on that road.

Uncertainty honors the reality that none of us ever has perfect and complete understandings. Uncertainty puts us on our knees, waiting upon the Spirit’s leading. If we are unwilling to go there, I fear we will treat dear brothers and sisters in Christ as Angelina Grimke was treated.

2. Every Christian I know uses two different moral compasses, both rooted in Scripture: the “right/wrong” moral compass and the “better/worse” moral compass.

(If you are an exception to this statement, let me know! I want to hear your story.)

Most moral decisions are guided by biblical teachings on right and wrong. But a number of times in Scripture we see a “better/worse” moral compass superseding the right/wrong one. It’s wrong to be a prostitute, but it was better for Tamar to become a prostitute than to allow her father-in-law Judah’s unjust behavior to continue (Gen. 38). Slavery is wrong, but it was so systemically entrenched in the Roman Empire that any community that tried to abolish it would be massacred. Thus, it was better strategically for Paul’s mission work that he not seek its abolition but instead encourage born-again masters and slaves to act as godly as they could within an evil societal institution while he focused on other social justice issues (Eph. 6:5-9, Col. 3:22-4:1).

I could give many more examples from Scripture where the “better/worse” compass supersedes the “right/wrong” one. Might the 1829 elders of Third Presbyterian Charleston have confused a better/worse biblical teaching with a right/wrong one?  

A woman told me that her lesbian daughter made a commitment to celibacy and spent her 20s in and out of psychiatric hospitals. Finally, wearied by it all, she gave up, fell in love with another woman, entered into a civil union, and has flourished ever since. This mother believes that her daughter has both done the wrong thing and the better thing.

I have no comment on this mother’s conclusion, except that her story helps me to wait quietly in a season of holy uncertainty. I am a total depravity Calvinist; I know that my own heart prefers to use the better/worse compass for complex situations that I face and it prefers to use the right/wrong compass for complex situations that others face. Oh, my duplicitous heart!

Steven Garber suggests that we Christians engage the world through a continuous cycle of four steps: we weep, we pray, we study, we act. We CRC types excel at studying and acting, and we are gradually maturing as a praying community.

What about weeping?

My prayer is that a season of holy uncertainty will help us to mature as a people who weep with those who weep.

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Guide

Thanks Syd. Really appreciate this. A friend often says that the pull of the "idol of theological certainty" is strong for us.

Almost as strong as the idol of theological uncertainty.

Community Builder

Thank you Syd. You beautifully express what has been on my heart. I will join you in this time of holy uncertainty on my knees in prayer. Thank you for giving us a posture for this time.

Admin

Great post, Syd. Thanks for challenging us to think in new ways and make peace with unknowns, confident that God is faithful. 

Participant

Thanks for your thoughtful words, Syd.  You/ve given a name to what I have been thinking and feeling about this topic - holy uncertainty.  I was actually hoping that the tragedy that occurred in Orlando just before the discussions/decisions were to be made at Synod would have led us to the same conclusion.

I personally know 2 people who grew up in the CRC and are homosexual, and I weep when I talk to them or think about the longings that they have for both their personal and spiritual life. They want all the same things that the rest of us do - love, family, being able to use the gifts God has given them in their church, etc.  However, the CRC does not "allow" this, so they have gone elsewhere, for better of for worse.  This grieves me to no end.  I will also stand with you and weep, and pray for the Spirit's enlightenment to show us how we can be the hands and feet of Christ to persons with alternate sexual orientations.  I'm glad we as a denomination have begun to discuss this more openly, but I believe we are still a long way from making final decisions on this.  May we continue to be open to the Spirit's leading.

Community Builder

Where is the end point? Uncertainty is generally unhealthy. The story given to justify "holy uncertainty" is strange because the end point is acceptance of homosexual marriage. And then to have no comment on the mother's conclusion is taking a stand on the issue.

Seems to me you are writing with a forked pen.

Mr. Boessenkool: Thank you for your thoughts on Rev. Syd Hielema's article. What a weighty responsibility ministers of the Word have - "to declare the Word of the Lord to a community" - overwhelming indeed! I am thankful that Rev. Hielema trembles on his knees at his calling.

Regarding the example, I do not come away with the same feeling as you that "the end point is acceptance of homosexual marriage." Rev. Hielema intriguingly states that "This mother believes that her daughter has both done the wrong thing and the better thing." While not in my place to defend his position/comments, I am intrigued with his idea that the"'better/worse' compass supersedes the 'right/wrong' one."

While you advocate Rev. Hielema writes with a "forked pen," I would thank him for his thoughtfulness in presenting a position that is based on biblical teachings and serious study. He certainly is advancing food for serious thought and discussion.

I also echo Rev. Hielema's prayer we "mature as a people who weep with those who weep," and add the prayer for us to have ears that listen and hearts that serve.

Grace and peace.

Living with uncertainty is such an important discipline, one that as a mental health counselor and educator I have felt duty bound to help people with because there is so much in life we cannot ever know with certainty. I had not thought of holy uncertainty in those words, but I embrace them, as I have been the recipient of so much harm at the hands of people who can only live with certainty. Thank you for this. I think I will need to begin to share the concept.

Thanks, Syd, for your article on uncertainty.  I especially like your analogy of right/wrong compass and the better/worse compass, and how we use one or the other when applying direction either to ourselves or to others.  How true that is.  

I’m not sure what to make of your “waiting in uncertainty” posture.  I’m not even sure that the two sojourners had to wait very long in uncertainty, not even a full day.  But what does waiting in uncertainty mean?  It certainly doesn’t mean waiting around, doing nothing.  It doesn’t mean not wrestling with the issue at hand, even as these two disciples wrestled with the idea that their Savior had been crucified and buried.  Certainly they shared their ideas, thoughts, and misgivings, as well as their hopes.  

As to the homosexual issue facing our denomination, it would seem that some of the uncertainty has been removed, at least for the present and near future.  Ministers and office bearers may not participate in a same sex marriages in any way, and by way of being models for their congregations it would be best if members didn’t participate in such weddings either.  We don’t believe in double standards, do we?  Nor will married same sex couples be allowed to be members of our churches.  That much we can be certain of.  For many that doesn’t seem to be a reason to rejoice.  At present it seems more like waiting with doubt and fear for the church we love (maybe even as the sojourners felt on the way to Emmaus).  And I can’t imagine it means to let sleeping dogs lie.  Thanks Syd for food for thought.

Roger,
    Generally I liked your comment, but I have one clarification to make. 
The minority report's pastoral advice walks a line on the issue of members in same-sex marriages. According to the report, "there may be situations where two individuals married in a civil same-sex marriage could be fully consistent with CRC teaching" (Agenda 2016, 439). I think that they are imagining a situation where a couple in a same-sex marriage come to faith in Christ and want to join the church. Yet, for those who are already Christian the position is different. "A Christian person - or a current member of a [CRC] church - entering into [a same-sex marriage] would...be in conflict with the church's teaching on marriage" (Agenda 2016, p.439). Moving past 'uncertainty' requires clarity. So, I hope this helps. 

Thanks, Syd, for articulating what many in the CRC are feeling but may be afraid to wonder about aloud. This humble approach is fitting for the complex challenges we face. 

Participant

This is an intriguing article, and it certainly introduces to the discussion (whatever exactly the question is, which really isn't defined) a new thinking twist, but I wonder this: about what can we, should we, do we not already have in all things, "holy uncertainty," or perhaps just uncertainty (I'm not sure how one might distinguish between "holy" and "unholy," or even "regular," uncertainty).

Do we have, should we have, "holy uncertainty" about the virgin birth and the bodily resurrection?  No doubt, all lack faith, just as Jesus' own disciples did.  That condition is certainly "uncertainty," and it is quite genuine -- is it "holy uncertainty," "unholy uncertainty," or "regular uncertainty?"

In other words, is the suggestion that we should have "holy uncertainty" about homosexuality (again, whatever the question precisely is) at all helpful?  Are we all not somewhat like Rene Descartes, after all, who had some doubt about any and all propositions in his search for truth until he stumbled on the notion of "I think, therefore I am."   But of course his skeptical contemporaries, the Pyhronians, declared essentially that they "doubted that the doubted" in rebuke of Descartes.  Christians have historically lived in opposition to Descartes "rationalism" -- should we now reconsider this?

In other words, having doubt is rather ubiquitous in all facets of human affairs.  Does rephrasing it as "holy uncertainty" really help in the discussion of whatever exactly this question is?  I'm not so sure -- or, to put it another way, I'm having "holy uncertainty" about this "holy uncertainty."

I too found the sanctification of this particular strain of uncertainty to be unhelpful.  Beginning with the fact that faith itself is defined explicitly in terms of its certainty, I have observed a much stronger theme in the Bible in support of certainty in what God has declared than in support of uncertainty.  Most often Scripture commends uncertainty in the things God has chosen not to reveal.   I also hasten to add that certainty cannot be equated with pride (lest we all be guilty of pride for the very act of publicly declaring our sure faith), and uncertainty cannot be equated with humility.

One thing I"ve learned in 59 years on the planet is that when someone tells me they aren't advocating for this or that position it's time to pay close attention. It's almost always not true. They most certainly are advocating. The analogy in this article is ever so sly. We're supposed to believe that, as far as Presbyterians in the deep south circa 1850s are concerned, the bible is uncertain about the notion of freedom, but that the abolitionists knew better so they keep championing freedom for slaves on the basis of biblical uncertainty regarding such freedom. This is a nonsense argument. The bible is not uncertain about freedom. The bible is not uncertain about the nature of our brokenness either. This is article employs literary slight of hand and claims it isn't advocating for anything in particular. Really? 

Generally, Syd, I agree with your premise that Christians do well to cultivate a posture of "holy uncertainty."  I say generally because there are so many situations in life that Scripture doesn't speak to clearly or directly. As a pastor discerns a call, as a student discerns an educational path, as a manager discerns a career path, each do well to humbly and prayerfully enter into a season of "holy uncertainty" allowing the Spirit to lead in ways that may feel uncomfortable or unexpected. Other examples: Can a sincere follower of Christ work in a casino if they feel a genuine call to be Christ's witness there? Might an exceptionally gifted athletic teenager give up the regular Lord's Day gathering because of sports commitments and still be a faithful disciple of Christ who finds Christian community and faith nurture in other ways? How does our denomination deal with its own past in starting and supporting Native American schools and to what degree were they influenced by a subtle form of "ethnic cleansing" that flowed out of the dark side of the Doctrine of Discovery?  I think all of these questions require the kind of "holy uncertainty" you describe because Scripture itself makes no clear pronouncements.

What you are arguing is that Scripture may be unclear on its teaching of marriage and homosexual behaviour. What has become increasingly clear to me is this: if Scripture is unclear in these areas it is because the rules for interpreting the Scriptures that people are using are no longer held in common. The hermeneutic that is used to affirm SSM is decidedly different than the one used to uphold a traditional view on marriage (this post is not the place to elaborate on that in detail). If the posture of "holy uncertainty" requires us to hold both hermeneutics in a hoped for Spirit-seasoned tension, it is almost certain to move us along a predetermined trajectory. Why? Because if the agreed upon rules for interpretation are no longer agreed to, then the authority of Scripture--namely how the Bible is to be read and interpreted--is no longer something we hold in common. And the only logical outcome after a season of holy uncertainty has run its course will be to default to the more "open" or less restrictive reading of the Bible. I believe that most denominations that have entered seasons of holy uncertainty, because they believe Scripture may be unclear or can be read in different ways, have followed, or, are following, that trajectory to a more open and/or affirming view  (PCUSA, RCA, PCC, to name a few).

Those who hold to the hermeneutic that maintains the traditional view (dare I say, Biblical view.... already many shy away from using the term "Biblical view" because the posture of "holy uncertainty" leads us to believe both positions as Biblical), are deeply concerned that the "new" hermeneutic opens up a way of reading Scripture that calls into question any number of established Biblical teachings.

Participant

Deja vu to the era of Abraham Kuyper, who moved from one hermeneutical approach early in life to a different one later.  Of course (I would suggest), the shift in this case is reversed from the shift made by Kuyper.

I suspect this perception of hermeneutical change is of far more concern to many CRCers than the SSM issue.  It is to me.

Andrew, I appreciate and agree completely with your comments posted here. There is a right and there is a wrong when it comes to obedience to God's preceptive will. 

However, as I read Syd's article (and I'm probably reading it with my own filter) I am understanding the holy uncertainty to be in regards to living out various aspects of God's preceptive will. If I take the traditional view, which I agree is the Biblical view, of marriage, I am just as bound by God's will to provide a place of welcome for someone who is outside of the community. Jesus, living in me, moves me to have supper with people who don't share my values, to the extent that observers think that I am condoning certain behavior (Luke 15:1) 

I find myself uncertain about holding on to the traditional interpretation of God's will, and being effective as salt and light in the world. In my experience, we have been so certain about our stand in regards to same sex attraction that we have almost completely cut ourselves off from people who are hurting, both those who experience same sex attraction, as well as their families. 

I write this, not in disagreement, but to continue the dialog in order to become more adept at being salt and light in God's world.

Well said, Andrew.  Glad the hermeneutical questions will be picked up by the new study committee.  God's strength and wisdom to them.

 

When friends over coffee would ask my view on SSRs I would tell them that my position is one of tenuousness. However, I think that I like the term holy uncertainty more. How can we really hear that small still voice of God speaking to us on these matters; how can we really listen to each other if we have solid rigid stances which make real dialogue impossible. When Neal Plantinga was here recently giving a presentation (not on this issue) as an aside someone asked him his view on the gay issue. He said that his position was one of the traditional CRC view but "I'm listening". How good I thought. dick farenhorst

This is becoming an interesting conversation.  I appreciate the insights some are laying out on the table in regard to hermeneutics (or principles of interpreting Scripture).  Andrew suggests that we (the church) are abandoning a more conservative view for a more open and permissive view of interpreting the Bible, and thus are even considering enveloping homosexuals into the full life of the church, as full members.  It is true, there are two ways to read Scripture, even on the homosexual issue.  One, reading Romans 1 literally, would completely exclude the homosexuals from the church and see them as heathens, except, possibly, as objects of evangelism.  Or a second reading is that Paul was speaking of a particular and heinous form of homosexual abuse and not of respectable gays or same sex married people that Paul, either knew nothing about or wasn’t addressing.

But the reality is that the church has always used both the more restrictive and the more open hermeneutic as it has seen fit, but generally moving from the more traditional (restrictive) to the more open.  I’m speaking of our denomination, and not looking over the fence at other Christian denominations or groups.  

One issue where this is obvious is in regard to Sunday observance.  In the past (50 years ago or so) Sunday was seen as a Christian Sabbath where CRC Christians were very restricted in what they could do on Sunday (no sports, no work, no restaurants, no newspapers, no bicycle riding for children, no meal preparation, etc.)  Today, in CRCs, Sunday is celebrated as the Lord’s Day (not a sabbath) and nearly anything goes.  Nothing is nicer than going out to a restaurant for a nice dinner after church, or breakfast before church.

Or what about divorce.  I remember when divorce was sanctioned in the CRC only under the condition of marital unfaithfulness, not even spousal abuse was a legitimate grounds.  And those divorced were not allow to teach or hold office in the church.  That has gone out the door for a more open interpretation of the Bible.

Or what about separation from the world and worldly amusements?  I couldn’t dance, go to the show, play cards (other than UNO), etc. etc.

Or what about women in church office, or the so called “headship” principle?  I haven’t heard that word in twenty years.  We ‘ve pretty much removed the word “obey” from our CRC wedding forms.  And there was no doubt that God forbade women from holding places of authority over men inside the church, as well as in society.  Now we have a different understanding of the Bible.  Women can be elders, deacons and ministers, all based on a more open hermeneutic.

Or what about Christian education?  I remember when it was a requirement for church office bearers and Calvin faculty to enroll their children in the Christian school system.  It was a  covenant principle which was at the heart of our Reformed theology.  Now Christian education is a nice CRC elective.

Or what about our narrower view toward the Holy Spirit’s role in the Christian’s life that was held in the past?  Now increasingly we are adopting a Pentecostal and experiential perspective by which the Christian’s experience of salvation becomes more important than God’s role. Dancing in the aisles of church is evidence of a Spirit filled life.  Now spiritual warfare is a matter of demons influencing people from some pseudo reality.  The third wave movement is increasingly making inroads into the church because a more open hermeneutic allows and even encourages it.

Or what about interracial marriage?  That was a definite no no for Christians.  But, now, a more open interpretation of the Bible says, yes, by all means.

And we could go on to other issues but this will suffice.  The point, is that Western Christianity, including (or especially) the CRC has always used both a closed minded traditional approach to interpreting the Bible, as well as a more open and less restrictive approach to hermeneutics.  Just as the church has opened its doors to women in leadership (even at Synod) and to have authority over men and women, so also within the next twenty years the church will open its doors to homosexuals and will fully recognize their marriages as God ordained and will be seen as valuable assets to our churches, no different from any other member.  And this will happen because we will see and understand that the Bible (our authority) tells us not to show prejudice against anyone, especially within the church.  It’s a shame that this can’t happen sooner than later before we lose our reputation as a welcoming voice in our society.

Community Builder

Why are there new "readings" of scripture emerging? Is this uncertainty a transitional experience in at one point thinking things were clear and now seeing them as less clear? Where is God in this? Why would we one day imagine that God speaks through Scripture to us, his church and this world and the next day imagine that perhaps Scripture is the record of past revelation but not necessarily binding on us in the ways we used to think? 

All of these to me are what we in our tradition have called "confessional" issues. "Confessions" are the documents beneath the church that create an environment for community, where we say "we together see things in this way." 

After the triumph over slavery the "progressives" saw temperance as a key political battle that would relieve poverty, lower rates of spousal abuse, help make men better fathers, etc. This became a cause in churches to a degree that church after church read into scripture that alcohol was evil and ought to be prohibited. In the US a constitutional amendment was passed. In the CRC some went along with this and others didn't. Why? Why not? 

Synod 2016 revealed that the CRC is deeply divided. There were at least two camps looking on. There were winners and losers politically and at the end of Synod some groups have asked themselves "do we really fit here?" 

Some read the Bible as showing a progression where legalistic norms that deny freedom of many kinds are broken and the church needs to get in step with these development. Others read the Bible as God's increasingly counter-cultural revelation to a broken, fallen world and the church is a space where people find refuge from the world, the devil, and their broken desires that make life unlivable. 

I believe that Christianity is progressivist, in that history has an outcome and a conclusion and that Jesus is Lord of history. I believe that Christianity is liberationist in that in Christ we receive a new identity and that we are no longer subject to the tyranny of the devil nor fully at the mercy of our broken desires or fallen human nature. Christian progress and liberation also have a unique counter-cultural shape that defines what we judge to be progress and specifies what and how we must be liberated from. 

I think we in the CRC need to have open and honest conversations about these things. I call these conversations Confessional conversations.

There will be some uncertainty for many of us and it is good for people to be honest about their uncertainties, as it is also good for them to be honest about their certainties. 

 

Thanks, Syd.  

 

Syd,

I appreciate hearing from you!

Participant

I would agree that it is good to be uncertain about things Scripture is not completely clear about. The better/worse vs right/wrong argument has a certain appeal, and in some cases actually applies (though I'd disagree with his point about Tamar).

However the better/worse argument applies when there is a higher principle that comes into play. The accommodations to the injustice of slavery in the NT are couched in terms that actually undermine the practice of slavery (masters must treat slaves as brothers). Paul's letter to Philemon is a masterful example of Paul saying slavery is wrong without actually saying it in so many words.

When it comes to homosexuality, a practice widely accepted in mainstream Greek and Roman culture, the Scripture is always clear and consistent. There's no uncertainty about it. Scripture always condemns the practice and leaves no "wiggle room" for exceptions. We may be uncertain as to why the Scriptures from OT to NT are so consistent (I am), we may wish there were more wiggle room (I sometimes do), but we cannot be uncertain about what Scripture actually says on this subject. We just can't.

An anecdote about compromise proving psychologically fruitful for someone (at least in the short term), demonstrates a better/worse scenario built on a very shaky foundation: "I was depressed when I didn't, but happy when I did." Such a principle could be applied to those who practice even the most heinous sins or crimes, and is often the justification given by those stuck in certain sins. 

I am concerned that such an approach is not merely a door to undermining Scriptural authority, but also establishes another authority altogether: my freedom to "wiggle my way out of" whatever I want to claim is uncertain. When the Scripture is unclear, it is healthy to be uncertain, but when it is clear, it is unhealthy to be uncertain.

The NIV translates Paul in 1 Cor 13:12 this way: "For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror..." (i.e., re true knowing, vs 9). I grew up on the old language of "For now we see through a glass, darkly..." which in my 80 years I resonate with even more. Unless all Bible believing Christians hear the Spirit saying the same thing, the Spirit's fruit of humility demands a certain amount of uncertainty, and it may not even be wholly holy. Thanks Syd,

Thanks Richard for your input.  On a website like this we sure get a variety of opinions, and it’s good to hear your opinion, as well.  But I think your reasoning falls short in a couple of places.  One, your comment that has Paul saying slavery is wrong because Paul considers Onesimus as a brother and should be treated graciously rather than as he deserves as a runaway slave doesn’t follow sound reasoning. Paul doesn’t ask Philemon to release Onesimus from his slavery or suggest that slavery is wrong, but only to treat him beyond that which he deserves because he has been so useful to Paul.  Paul doesn’t say that all slaves should be treated as brothers, only Onesimus.  Nor is Paul condemning the institution of slavery.  Paul never criticizes the institution of slavery in the Old Testament as practiced by the Jews, or the practice within his own Roman culture.  In fact, Paul likens Christianity to the institution of slavery, only a willing slavery, where the slave lives in willing obedience to his owner and master.  If Paul considered slavery as wrong, I doubt that he would use the practice of slavery as a model for the Christian’s life.  I think you are pushing way beyond what Paul had in his mind.  You are imposing your own convictions on him.

As to your thoughts about the Bible’s message in regard to homosexuality and its clarity, I think you may be on a slippery slope.  Although there appears to be a clear condemnation of homosexuality in Romans 1, as well as in other passages (Old Testament), what is not clear at all is if Paul is talking about homosexuality across the board.  It’s obvious he is talking about those who suppress and deny God’s divine nature.  He is talking about those who refuse to honor and give thanks to him. He is talking about those who worship man-made idols instead of the God of heaven and earth.  Even when the Old Testament criticizes homosexuals it is those who demonstrate a perverted practice from within a heathen religious culture.  Paul or the Old Testament isn’t condemning homosexuals who claim a commitment to Christ and to the faith of the Bible and who want to be useful to God in his present kingdom.  So it seems likely that Paul isn’t criticizing all homosexuals, but only those who pervert human sexuality.  Paul could have as easily condemned those who pervert heterosexual sexual relationships.  And if he did, such condemnation would not include a normal heterosexual sexual relationship within the bonds of marriage, especially a Christian marriage.  So what you, Richard, claim to be clear is not at all clear to many who read the same Bible verses as you read.  What is clear, is that Paul is condemning the hatred of God by the heathen, but at the same time promises eternal life to those who persevere in doing good and by such seek honor, glory and eternal life.  That’s sounds like any Christian homosexual who loves the Lord and seeks to honor God through a chaste life or through marital commitment in a life long relationship of love.

Such scrutiny of Scripture has nothing to do with the undermining of Scriptural authority but rather a seeking for God’s message of salvation for those who have been chosen by God.  If there is uncertainty (not a holy uncertainty) it is the uncertainty planted by those who misrepresent God’s intentions and tend to be exclusionary of those different from themselves.

Thanks Al (Mulder) for your take on uncertainty or looking into a glass darkly...  It’s obvious that Bible believing Christians do not hear the Spirit saying the same thing on much of anything, Hence the thousands of different Christian denominations, all claiming the Bible as their authority but yet believing different things on every topic coming out of Scripture.  Do we call this a Spirit led church?

Participant

Roger,

In Philemon, Paul says this: "although in Christ I could be bold and order you to do what you ought to do, yet I prefer to appeal to you on the basis of love" (v.8). This is a key to understanding what Paul is doing. It is crystal clear that Paul is indirectly telling Philemon to free Onesimus, but he wants Philemon to make the decision on the basis of the New Testament ethic of love. Paul, like Jesus, rarely talks about institutional sin, or sinful institutions. Instead they preach the ethic (love) that undermines injustice wherever it is. To say Paul doesn't condemn slavery per se, misses the point of what Paul's strategy is in dealing with Philemon, and IMHO, all Christians who owned slaves. Paul had the authority to order Philemon to free Onesimus (he says as much in v.8), yet he decides to trust Philemon to do the right thing, once Paul explains the application of the law of love as it pertains to Onesimus. 

But the fact that he doesn't condemn slavery, but does condemn homosexual behavior, makes a stronger case for not supporting it in the Church! Apparently Paul saw a clearer antithesis between homosexual behavior and Christianity than slavery and Christianity. Don't ask me to explain why (I don't know), but it certainly seems to me, that's what's going on here. 

Your thoughts as to what Paul is "really saying" or "really rejecting," or that the OT restrictions on homosexual practice are all related to pagan practices are simply unfounded (regardless of attempts to make such a case). Further, there are no positive examples of acceptable homosexual relationships, nor suggestions for exceptions to a general rule, nor even hints of such in either the NT or the OT. Zero. Nada. Zip. (Again, despite flawed attempts to suggest otherwise.) 

I am not suggesting that those with same sex attraction should be excluded from the church. Neither is the CRC. What we are saying is that there is no Biblical support for accepting same-sex marriage (that presumably includes sexual acts between people of the same sex). 

An uncertainty hermeneutic on this topic is, IMHO, beyond a slippery slope, it has already fallen off the cliff. At some point we have to say that there are some things we actually are certain about, and this, if we are honest, is clearly one of them. There are things Scripture is unclear about: what is required in a marriage ceremony is one, church polity is another, even infant baptism has good arguments for and against. Either Scripture simply fails to address a question we are asking, or there seems to be some ambiguity between Scriptures as to what should take precedent. But not as regards this topic: one position is presented and no other positions are considered in Scripture itself.

BTW, we're not talking about salvation here. We're talking ethics and morality. I have no doubt that some who are in a same sex relationship or marriage will be saved, as will those who regularly gossip, are greedy, lie, cheat and steal. No one is saying that same sex relationships are somehow an unforgivable sin. We're just saying it's sin. Followers of Jesus will want to stop sinning and the Holy Spirit will work in us to convict us of sin and to empower us to live holy lives. God is immensely gracious. Of that we can be completely certain. ;-)

Thanks, Syd, for your thoughts leading to such a stimulating discussion!  And thanks, everyone for contributing.  I appreciated the tone of the conversation as we wrestle with this question.  Happy Canada Day.

I have listened to this debate on the homosexual issue, as it affects our denomination, for some time now.  I have always taken the more homosexual friendly view, the view that says, let’s remove the barriers between us and them.  If we can find a way to be inclusive of gays, how much more Christ-like we will be, tearing down the walls that divide us.  But there seems to be this insurmountable barrier that prevents us from holding hands with homosexuals, from allowing them to be full members of the church along with us.  Of course, those who applaud our denomination’s recent decision will quickly point out, it is Scripture that prevents us from holding hands.  I understand that.  There is a long history of agreement by most Christians with Paul’s characterization of homosexuals as the very enemies of God.  This is God’s characterization of every practicing homosexual through the ages, that by their lifestyle they are somehow expressing their hatred of God, even as Paul plainly states.  Plainly their homosexual lifestyle is an aberration of God’s intended purpose and place for sex.  Sex should never take place outside of the marital state between one man and one woman.  

But I’m thinking there is more to this aversion by Christians of homosexuals than meets the eye.  In my opinion, it is not too difficult to make a Biblical case for saying that the Bible’s aversion of homosexuals is not against homosexuals across the board, but of those who practice homosexual sex in the context of heathenism, of cultic religious worship, of those who worship manmade gods rather than the God of heaven and earth.  But those who want to put all homosexuals into the same basket will quickly and strongly deny such a position, calling it unbiblical.

And yet on many other issues, such as women in office, we bypass the obvious Biblical injunction that women are not to have authority over men in order to grab hold of a much less prominent Biblical rationale that allows women to be office bearers in the church.  We have done this on many issues that have faced the church in the past and recent history, but not so when it has come to homosexuality.  I think there is a deeper psychological barrier that has allowed, even Christians in the past to persecute homosexuals, and even today allows Christians to bar gays from full church membership.  The so called Biblical injunction against gays is only the veneer that hides the Christian’s real and deep seated reason for rejecting gays as full members of the church.  Maybe that reason is a deep seated fear of what others will think of me (a heterosexual) for loving someone so different from myself (even at the core level of sexuality and sexual orientation).  A long history of Bible interpretation has said God condemns such people as unacceptable and therefore so should I.

I wonder why we, as Christians, can so easily be dismissive of other areas in regard to sexually acceptable behavior, and not be dismissive of homosexual behavior.  We treat masturbation (self sexual manipulation) as though it is a natural function of growing up.  And in fact many psychologists, even Christian psychologists, will claim that it is a healthy behavior that contributes to a mature and balanced adulthood.  Some Christians would say that masturbation, for the widow or widower, who doesn’t want to remarry, it is a healthy form of sexual release.  And yet masturbation clearly falls outside the boundaries of Biblical acceptability (sexual relations are to take place only between a married man and woman).  Homosexual activity is no more harmful than heterosexual activity or self sexual gratification.  So why doesn’t our denomination form a study committee to condemn and exclude those who masturbate?  It is said that in the U.S. over half the adult male population and a quarter of the female population masturbate on a regular basis.  And with the issue of pornography in the hands of church members, you can be sure that masturbation is a common phenomenon among church members, even among pastors, so I have heard.   Why is it so easy to dismiss one sexual deviant behavior and not the other?  Why is there no denominational study committee and action taken to exclude masturbators from membership?   I would imagine it is because such behavior is not so totally foreign to most of us, unlike the behavior of homosexuals.  We can strongly condemn homosexual behavior, but only mildly condemn masturbation which is not worth a separate report and action, even though such behavior (thought to be sinful by many Christians) is so common, even in the church.  The rationale seems to be, those who masturbate may not be so different from the rest of us, but homosexual behavior is definitely different, and therefore should be judged.

It may sound repulsive to some to hold hands with a homosexual but it is time to put aside our repulsions and find it in our hearts to accept and love those who are different from ourselves.  It is time to look for Biblical grounds to include homosexuals who may be different from ourselves, rather than looking for grounds to exclude.  But we may have to wait for some time before such thinking can take root in our denomination, seeing as our churches have now made a binding 1decision that doesn’t allow an openness toward homosexuals.  The “uncertainty” now may be, how long can we hold together with the internal strife that many feel.

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Is homosexual activity a sin? A simple yes or no. Is premarital sex a sin? Where does Satan fit in this discussion?

"We need a power greater than ourselves - and greater than Satan - to free us and heal us. So we must admit our helplessness and entrust our lives to Jesus." Today May- June 2006.

 

Good question. Follow-up question: If a sin, misdemeanor or felony?

The Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Churches classify (in my words) as misdemeanors or felonies. Some "dispensational" denominations teach that "wrong thinking" (my words) is as serious as premeditated murder to God. What is the CRCNA position?

The Devil is always in the details. Most Christians, most people mostly worry about pleasing God and the next life in terms of going to Heaven or going to Hell. If neither God's election to salvation nor "believing in Jesus" provides a final answer then logically our eternal destination is determined by God's evaluation one's good and bad "works." Or God flips a coin. 

Maybe for the "elect," God grades on a curve and we should reconsider the concept of Purgatory. 

 

 

This article is confusing from the outset when it says, “I’m not advocating for a particular position…[but] a particular posture.”  The advocacy of uncertainty is a position.  Kindness, patience, compassion…these are postures one can take with regard to any ‘Issue Y’ regardless of one’s position on ‘Issue Y.’  Advocating uncertainty with regard to any ‘Issue Y’ is itself a position on ‘Issue Y’ …namely, that claims to certainty are (currently?) less warranted than uncertainty.

 

I want to echo those who have noted how little publicity uncertainty gets in scripture.  Uncertainty with regard to things that have not been revealed? Absolutely.  Uncertainty with regard to the meaning of things that have been revealed?  To put it mildly, I’d argue that the scope of scripture pushes in the opposite direction.  The Luke 24 example itself bears this out.  The disciples on the road to Emmaus were not commended but scolded for their uncertainty.  “Foolish” and “slow of heart” are not compliments.  Uncertainty simply doesn’t get the Biblical endorsement many assume.  Humility--yes; uncertainty--no … and we as a church must forever insist that the two are not synonymous. 

 

I also find it odd to advocate for a season of uncertainty for an entire denomination.  I can see how individuals may need to journey through a season of uncertainty on this question (and many others) … that is until they’ve had an opportunity to do some more praying / studying / listening / reflecting.  But the suggestion that a denomination made up of nearly 250,000 people all need to go through this season at the same time seems to overlook the fact that many of us have prayed / studied / listened / reflected on this matter for some time, have weighed the various perspectives and voices, and as a result have settled on informed convictions.  To be told that we should now go back to uncertainty seems to imply that all previous seasons of discernment were insufficient for one reason or another. 

 

Finally, I have a few questions about this season of holy uncertainty: How long is this season supposed to last?  Or will it simply be suggested in perpetuity that we’ve still been too hasty and that we should enter into another season of uncertainty?  Is this uncertainty open to the possibility that we’ve understood scripture correctly all along?  If so, when and how is anyone allowed to conclude that?  If not, same question.  Why advocate for a season of uncertainty only on this one issue and not dozens and dozens of other moral and doctrinal matters (including those outlined in our confessions)?

Thank you for this article, Syd.  Your example of the mother and her daughter are so similar to a friend of mine and her struggle with her own sexuality, but instead of psychiatric hospitals it was extreme weight gain and a slide into depression with a continuing commitment to live as "post-gay."

Thank you for your article Syd. 

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