God's Word for today

Wednesday, 3 June 2009

How far is too far?

One of the courses that we are doing for our BTh is called “Journeying in Faith”, which explores different disciplines and expressions of spirituality. As Phase Ones our studies are supported by various lecturers providing tutorial assistance, and many of the lectures are quite enlightening.

About five or six weeks ago we started discussing the connection between our sexuality and our spirituality, and in the first session our tutor invited Johan Strydom to address us. For those who are not familiar with this name, Johan is the man who took the Moreleta Park Dutch Reformed Church to court in a much-publicised unfair dismissal case arising from the disclosure of his sexual orientation. His talk basically dealt with creating a climate of non-discrimination towards those who are of same-sex orientation, and he emphasised that, based on his own experience, being homosexual is not a “choice” that one makes but rather part of one’s makeup.

As is the case with any group, when it comes to the issue of same-sex relationships, our group of Phase Ones comprises people who have different views on this matter. In my own case, and that of one or two others, the “official” position of the MCSA is more or less being followed, i.e. that those of same-sex orientation need to be provided with pastoral care, a climate of acceptance as people created in God’s own image, and access to the means of grace (such as Communion), but that marriage remains a union between a man and a woman.

In our case, we would embrace an opportunity to engage this issue in a balanced manner, particularly with someone on the “other side” of the debate. Don’t get me wrong – I have no time for the “turn or burn” brigade, and simply hammering off a series of proof texts is not what I consider to be debate. As someone who is really wrestling with this issue, I really need a balanced approach to enable me to settle this matter in my own mind and conviction.

However, when the second session took place, such debate was not to be. Instead, we watched a DVD dealing with the experiences of homosexuals within the Church, which reiterated the call for full affirmation and acceptance (although the question of marriage was not specifically discussed). The session ended with me thinking, “okay, you’ve made your point – now allow us time for this to sink in, process our thoughts, and give us an opportunity to wrestle with this issue for ourselves”.

It was not to be. As I am writing this, our group is going to see the movie “Milk” this morning. I don’t know anything about it other than that it is a film about gay rights. And I must confess that I’m feeling extremely uncomfortable about the direction which these sessions are taking – almost as though there’s a specific agenda to ram a strong “pro” message down our throats.

I’ll go and see the movie, for no other reason that I have a strong conviction that you cannot criticise something that you have not encountered. An example would be the brigade that seeks to have certain “undesirable” books banned without having actually read such books. I remember being asked my opinion when “The Da Vinci Code” came out, and responding that since I have neither read the book nor seen the film, I do not have an opinion and will not comment based on hearsay.

I accept that the situation whereby those of same-sex orientation have suffered unbelievable discrimination and even persecution, even (and often particularly) at the hands of the Church, is deplorable. I’m also fully in support of the idea that one should view a person as Jesus views them – the whole person, not just their sexual orientation. I also count a number of beautiful, sincere, God-fearing Christians who are of same-sex orientation – one of whom is a minister – among my friends. And I also accept that much of my own thinking is influenced by an inbuilt prejudice that arises from me simply being heterosexual.

On the other hand, my primary duty as a minister is to be true to the Word of God. Now I’ll be the first to admit a number of uncertainties. Issues that I’m wrestling with at the moment include:
• How one objectively and honestly determines which Biblical texts are contextual and which are of universal application.
• Whether the prohibitions on homosexual activity contained in certain Biblical texts are dealing with homosexual activity by those who are naturally of heterosexual orientation; a particular form of pagan activity (such as temple prostitution); or a blanket prohibition.
• Which forms of sexual expression, whether homosexual or heterosexual, are considered to be Biblically legitimate. (Right now my position on this is that the only legitimate outlet for physical sexual expression is within a life-long marriage between a man and a woman.)

Clearly the lectures are biased towards a fully affirming and embracing position, and I’ll grant that we need to hear and understand the issues that those of homosexual orientation have (and are still) facing. But there’s a fine line between providing tutorial support and attempting to indoctrinate, and I’m beginning to feel that we are crossing that line.

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