Friday, May 30, 2014

A Better Conversation about Homosexuality (Part 7): Not About Sodom and Gomorrah

“Where are the men who came to spend the night with you? Bring them out to us so we can have sex with them!” (Genesis 19:5).

     The Biblical cities Sodom and Gomorrah have become idiomatic of wanton sinfulness.  In Genesis 18, God tells Abraham that God will destroy the twin cities of Sodom and Gomorrah "because their sin is so flagrant" (18:20).  
     Two angels then go into Sodom to investigate, and they eventually agree to stay in the home of Lot, Abraham's nephew.  That night, the men of Sodom surrounded Lot's house and demanded to have sex with the visiting men.  
     This story is often cited as a proof of the evils of homosexuality.  A traditional interpretation of the story is that the people of Sodom and Gomorrah were so sexually corrupt that God could not stand their presence on the earth any longer.  The text's depiction of men demanding sex with men is often seen as evidence of God's prohibition of homosexuality as a whole.  In fact, the word "sodomy" (having various meanings relating to "unnatural" sex) gets its meaning from the city of Sodom. 

      However, this is a gross misreading of the text.  Nothing in the Sodom and Gomorrah story says anything about modern homosexuality or gay marriage. 

Consider the following basic points. 

1. Sodom and Gomorrah is about rape.  The straight narrative of the story is that the men of Sodom try to gang rape Lot's guests and threaten to do even worse to Lot.  The issue at hand is primarily power and domination, not sexual desire.  Men raping men was a common form of humiliation against prisoners of war.  For some reason, the men of Sodom were trying to show their utter dominance over Lot and his guests.  This has nothing to do with consenting sexual relationships and even less for gay marriage.  

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Renovating Holiness: Last Round of Contributors

The Renovating Holiness project is well underway.  Gen-X and Millennial Nazarenes from around the world are revisioning sanctification for the 21st century.  We have inherited a beautiful theological house that is in serious need of renovation. 
Photo Credit: "Nathan"
These are the topic summaries for our last round of contributors.

Christa Klosterman (Pastor, Idaho & Oregon)
For the last many decades, each denomination has had its own distinctive element of theology or practice, a way to be set apart from the others.  For Nazarenes it has been holiness and our distinctive doctrine on sanctification.  In these current days, the lines we once drew to separate us from each other have disappeared or have become blurry.  What might it look like for the people called Nazarenes to share holiness with the broader Christian community?  And what might Nazarenes learn about holiness from the broader Christian community?

Montague R. Williams (Eastern Nazarene College)
Holiness and Racial Reconciliation: Considering Possibilities and Limitations
Christians in the U.S. have been expected to participate in congregations that match them racially.  Because racial division is heightened among evangelical congregations, it is not surprising from a sociological perspective that one rarely hears about racial reconciliation in Nazarene churches and statements.  However, from a theological perspective, there is a great deal of space to consider the connections between holiness and the hope and practice of racial reconciliation.  Making use of insights from interdisciplinary sources, I would like to identify possibilities and limitations of leaning on the doctrine of holiness for racial reconciliation.

Chad Maxson (Trevecca Nazarene University)
God’s Church and The Lens of Christ
Martin Luther spoke of God seeing us through Christ.  Wesleyans have often discounted that notion of imputed righteousness.  In this essay, I will touch on Dunning’s four relationships (self, others, God, and world) to make the case that, rather than aligning the human will with God’s will, sanctification is about aligning our vision with God’s.  When we see ourselves, others, God, and the world through the lens of Christ, we see true. Thus we are restored to the image of God.  This process requires guidance, which means that God’s Church is vital to entire sanctification.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Renovating Holiness: Reclaiming Entire Sanctification (Tim Crutcher)

     Tim Crutcher is a theology professor at Southern Nazarene University.  This is his contribution to the Renovating Holiness Project.

Photo Credit: Jaroslaw Filiochowski
     Just how “entire” is “entire sanctification”?  That’s always been a difficult question for me. On the one hand, I read in Scripture the call to “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matt 5:48, NIV).  I have also inherited a tradition that tells me that God can completely and decisively “fix” the problem of sin, either by eradicating the root from which it springs (an American Holiness emphasis) or by filling the heart so full with love that there is simply no room for sin anymore (John Wesley’s emphasis).
     On the other hand, my own experience—indeed, the experience of all the people I know—tells me that the battle against sin isn’t something that just “goes away.”  Furthermore, it just doesn’t make sense to think that, in this world filled with distractions and pleasures, we could ever rise above the level of temptation and reach some state where sin is no longer an option.  After all, look at Jesus.  Surely he had no “root of sin” in him, and surely his heart was completely filled with love, and yet he was tempted. 
     And so I’m still left with my question: Just how “entire” is “entire sanctification” anyway?

Friday, May 23, 2014

A Better Conversation about Homosexuality (Part 6): Not about Individual Worth

When Christians start talking about homosexuality, most LBGT people feel that their personal identity is under attack.
Photo Credit: Axel.Foley
This is unfortunately understandable, but fortunately not true.

     It's understandable for several reasons.
     First of all, some Christians mistakenly paint homosexual practice as a super-sin.  They give the impression in more ways than one that homosexual sex is worse than heterosexual adultery, or almost any other kind of sin under the sun.
     Second, many Christians and other conservatives have developed somewhat of a conspiracy theory called "the gay agenda."  The idea is that there is an organized plot to liberalize America, to destroy "family values", to disenfranchise Christians, and otherwise to bring general moral corruption.  Somehow a great majority of the focus in this perceived cultural battle has focused in on homosexuality in general and gay marriage in particular.
     Third, as I said in a previous post, many LBGT people feel that their sexual orientation is part of their core identity as a person.  Therefore, when anyone says anything negative about that sexual orientation, the LBGT person naturally feels deeply threatened.  The message they hear - based on conversations with my gay friends - is something most Christians never meant to say: "Who you are as a person is fundamentally bad or sinful or evil." 
     Lastly, it seems that many Christians have drawn a line in the theological and ethical sand on the issues relating to gay marriage. 

Friday, May 16, 2014

A Better Conversation about Homosexuality (Part 5): Not about Nature vs. Nurture

     Are people born this way?  Or are they shaped this way by experience?
Photo Credit: McBeth

People often think the "nature vs. nurture" debate is extremely important.  

     For gay-affirming people, the argument for "nature" usually goes something like this.  
1. I was born gay.  I always knew I was different.  I knew from a very early age that I liked girls instead of boys.
2. If I was born this way, then God made me this way.
3. God doesn't make mistakes.  I am beautiful and good as God's beloved child.
4. My homosexual orientation is a good, God-given part of my nature.
5. I can live as a practicing homosexual and still honor the God who made me this way.

     For people who reject homosexual practice in all formats, the argument for "nurture" usually goes something like this.
1. Most gay people experienced some kind of abuse or poor parenting.  
2. Those experiences unfortunately warped the person's sexual desires toward homosexuality instead of their God-given heterosexuality.
3. Acting on those desires is a choice, and the gay person should pray and work for a reorientation to God-honoring heterosexual desires.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Renovating Holiness: Sarmiento on THE POWER OF ONE

Christian Sarmiento, South America Regional Director for the Church of the Nazarene, is a few years too old for the Renovating Holiness project.  (To qualify as a full contributor, you must be born on or after 1960.)  However, he believes in the project and contributed this essay for the discussion.

     “Therefore I, the prisoner of the Lord, implore you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, showing tolerance for one another in love, being diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as also you were called in one hope of your calling; 5 one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all who is over all and through all and in all” (Ephesians 4:1-6, NASV).

     What does the “Power of One” mean? Is this a new “fad?” Is it another church program?
The expression, “Power of One,” points to God, Jehovah.
     He reveals Himself to Moses saying: “I am the Lord [Jehovah]; and I appeared to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, as God Almighty [El-shaddai], but by My name, Lord, I did not make Myself known to them” (Exodus 6:2-3).
     Jehovah means, “to be,” and it encompasses all the tenses: The God that was, that is and that will be; the eternal and only God. He is the “God Almighty” [El-shaddai], meaning the “most powerful” Being. He is the most sufficient, the most sustaining, the One that supplies more than what is necessary to have the highest realization of all. He is the “God of Power,” the God of creation, history, and salvation. His supreme call to Abram was: “I [am] God Almighty, walk habitually before Me, and be thou perfect” (Genesis 17:1, Young’s Literal Translation).
     Since God is who He is, he expects that His people “shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might” (Deuteronomy 6:5).

Friday, May 9, 2014

A Better Conversation about Homosexuality (Part 4): Not about Promiscuity

   The stereotype is that gay men are extremely promiscuous.  This aura of promiscuity plays into many Christian conversations about homosexuality explicitly or implicitly.  The idea seems to be that if we accept homosexuality in any form, then we are accepting wide-scale promiscuity: "Just go out and have sex with whoever you want in whatever bathroom you want." 

Photo Credit: Gary Bridgman

However, the promiscuity argument is fallacious.

First of all, quite a few studies flatly contradict this argument.  This list of six scientific studies finds that a minority of gay men are extremely promiscuous (18% with more than 20 partners, compared to 6% of straight men).  However, outside that very active minority, the rest of the homosexual population tends to mirror very closely the promiscuity and fidelity rates of the heterosexual population.

Friday, May 2, 2014

A Better Conversation about Homosexuality (Part 3): Not About an Orientation

Photo Credit: Umayyr
The conversation that the church is having is not about homosexuality as an orientation.  

     In a statement on homosexuality, my own denomination puts it like this:
The Bible says nothing about homosexuality as the term is often used today. Homosexuality is often used today to describe a person’s sexual orientation. The Bible does not address homosexual orientation.  What the Bible does talk about are homosexual acts. … Sexual orientation is not usually a willful choice.  …  It is amoral, neither moral nor immoral.  Sexual behavior is a moral choice.

     Being gay is not sinful.  Having the sexual orientation toward the same sex is not sinful or evil.  It is amoral.  Sin is in the action or intention, not in the desire or tendency.

True Confession: I am oriented to eating donuts by the dozen.
And whole pizzas, and vats of guacamole, and entire pecan pies.  I could eat an entire half-gallon of ice cream without flinching.  I am oriented to destructive overeating.  That orientation is not sinful in itself.  Camping out in Krispe Kreme is.  Sin is not in the desire.  Sin is in the action.  Holiness and health come in disciplining the desire for the sake of right action.

True Confession: I am a raging heterosexual.