Harming the Church, One Precious Training Day at a Time

David Burchard Christian Ethics, Letters Leave a Comment

Happy Halloween. Tomorrow is November, the month that will see Living Out run two training days for churches in the States (one hosted in Massachusetts, the other in Northern Virginia).

On the training day, from the Living Out website:

“Living Out wants to help churches understand how we can better help those who experience same-sex attraction to stay faithful to Biblical teaching on sexual ethics and flourish at the same time. On our LOCAL (Living Out Churches And Leaders) Course we will show you why many churches fail – but how the Bible wonderfully meets the challenges we all face.

The course will offer a positive biblical vision and practical steps forward as we seek to model both grace and truth in our Christ-like love for all those who experience same-sex attraction.

The Living Out team will share their insight and stories as same-sex attracted Christians who hold to traditional Bible teaching on sexual ethics and who have spoken and written on this subject widely.

We ask that all who attend assent to the UK Evangelical Alliance Basis of Faith and its biblical and pastoral position with respect to homosexuality, summarised in these affirmations.

Not surprisingly, Living Out claims the day will be positive and further human flourishing. How nice.

Please go over to warhornmedia.com to read more about Living Out and why churches should not support the organization, however well-intentioned its founders may be. For even further reading, I commend The Grace of Shame to you.

For the purposes of this post, please note that Living Out asks all who attend its training day to assent to the UK Evangelical Alliance’s affirmations on homosexuality.

Because we have good friends and brothers involved in hosting Living Out’s LOCAL course, Robert Turner (American by birth, Southerner by the grace of God) and I have collaborated to engage with the UK EA’s affirmations, specifically with the purpose of highlighting the faults therein.


Brothers,

We are concerned that there is a slow, and far-too-quickly-picking-up-speed, drift happening within the Southern Baptist Convention and the larger evangelical community relative to sexuality. And that’s probably putting it far too lightly. More and more, we’re seeing organizations, leaders, and conferences suggesting “new” ways to minister to the effeminate and the homosexual. These new ways, in the name of love, fail to affirm and defend the faith once delivered to the saints. The guardians are letting the good deposit blow away with the wind.

The failure of the new “way of love” can be seen in the UK Evangelical Alliance’s list of affirmations, with which Living Out stands in agreement.

Below are the affirmations, and our responses to them.

AFFIRMATIONS

We are conscious that different evangelicals might apply certain of these points in different ways, but we believe that, taken together, they reflect an authentic, mainstream evangelical response to homosexuality in general and sexually active same-sex partnerships in particular:

1. We recognise that all of us are sinners, and that the only true hope for sinful people – whatever our sexuality – is in Jesus Christ. Our earnest prayer is that his love, truth and grace would characterise evangelical responses to debates on homosexuality, both now and in future.

Already, there are two issues here at the beginning of these affirmations.

The first is with the phrase, “whatever our sexuality.” What is wrong with this phrase? The first issue is that it’s used at a time when folks claim an LGBTQI+ range of sexualities. They claim that this range both exists and exists as an array of people’s sexual orientations upon birth. This, however, is not true. There are not many sexualities or many orientations. There are two. God made them male and female period, oriented toward one another for marriage (Matthew 19:4-5, Mark 10:6-7). This is the created order. All other ideas and desires and practices are not orientations in which we passively find ourselves. They are vile passions, degradations, abominations. There is God’s creation and there is sin.

The second issue with the phrase, “whatever our sexuality”, is that, as a clause, particularly at this present time, it implies all sexual sin is on the same playing field, which is also not true. Homosexual lust sins not just against self, but also against nature itself. Heterosexual lust sins against self, but in the same direction as nature. Homosexual lust is a worse lust than a man lusting after a woman who is not his wife, just as it is worse to lust after a child than to lust for another adult. By worse, we mean dramatically, perversely worse.

The second issue with this opening affirmation is the phrase, “love, truth, and grace would characterise evangelical responses”. Based on the long track record of how Living Out talks about homosexuality, this call for more love, truth, and grace comes across as a call to soften God’s own language and tone about homosexuality in the Bible.

Ed Shaw of Living Out says that for him to look on the male form and desire it is a natural response to beauty in God’s creation.

He writes,

“Part of this is, I think, a growing realisation that my response to male beauty is, at one level, very natural. In desiring a beautiful man, in wanting to become one with him, I am responding to real beauty as all human beings tend to whenever, wherever, they discover it in any overwhelming form. C. S. Lewis articulates this well: ‘We want something else which can hardly be put into words – to be united with the beauty we see, to pass into it, to receive it into ourselves, to bathe in it, to become part of it.’2 Is that not always the human response to incredible beauty – in a sunset, a painting, some music? You want somehow to stay and enjoy it, experience it, become part of it, forever. That’s the natural effect of beauty on you. That’s just how it works.

I think that will help me next time I see a beautiful man and find myself wanting to be united to him. I am, at one level, just responding to beauty as I am created to respond to it. There is little I can do to avoid this natural response. We are all wired to appreciate beauty. That’s just how we work.”

But God uses words in His Bible to talk about these desires and thoughts like “abomination”. He calls homosexuals dogs, unnatural, perverse, etc. According to this affirmation from the UK EA, who is in violation of Christ’s “love, truth, and grace”? Ed Shaw and his plausibility problem, or those who go beyond diminishing and actually talk about degrading passions?

2. We affirm God’s love and concern for all human beings, whatever their sexuality, and so repudiate all attitudes and actions which victimise or diminish people whose affections are directed towards people of the same sex. We are encouraged many Christians now recognise and deeply regret the hurt caused by past and present failures in their responses to those who experience same-sex attraction.

Again, this affirmation is guilty of softening the issue. Victimise or diminish? Where does the Bible talk like this about homosexuality? “Affections are directed”? Are my affections now something that are guided apart from my control by some unstoppable force of nature? Am I simply a passive victim of my affections? “Well, would you look at that? My affections are directed to an abomination? How interesting. Oh well, I guess this is my lot in life.” How scared are we to just talk normally? Are we more concerned about the Bible hurting feelings now, or rescuing from the hurt of hell to come? Where is the Scriptural language that calls sin “sin” and rightly condemns soft men, gays, and lesbians as those loving that which is abominable in the sight of God, as those needing to repent even of their vile desires to avoid hell and damnation?

Not only is this affirmation as soft as a kitty cat’s lower belly, it goes so far as to condemn those who choose to courageously and lovingly speak like the Bible on this matter. Living Out asks any who attend their training to affirm this statement, and so regret…all the prophets? Christ? Paul? Every Christian who isn’t up to speed on all the most recently approved evangelical code words about lust?

3. We affirm that marriage is an institution created by God in which one man and one woman enter into an exclusive relationship for life. Marriage is the only form of partnership approved by God for sexual relations and homoerotic sexual practice is incompatible with His will as revealed in Scripture. We do not accept that holding these theological and ethical views on biblical grounds is in itself homophobic.

The first and last sentences of this affirmation are good and right. These sentences deserve affirmation. The problem comes in the middle. The problem is twofold. First is an issue that has already riddled this list. This affirmation is precious with sin. And such preciousness is pathetic and unbecoming of anyone who would take it upon himself to teach the Word. Consider the following phrase. “Homoerotic sexual practice is incompatible with His will as revealed in Scripture.” This phrase presents a question as deep as “toe-may-toe” or “toe-mah-toe”. Is the phrase best described as Kellerish, Woke, or Coalitionesque? Honestly, that’s a stumper. Is this our tag-line about sin, now? “Sin, It’s Incompatible.” Let me fix the phrase. “Homoerotic sexual practice is damnable, degrading, vile rebellion worthy of the wrath of God”

The second issue is found in the same phrase. It is no accident that only the practice, and not the lust, is condemned. While not an accident, it is a hamartiological error. The outward action is not where the sin begins. It begins with temptations that are in themselves sinful. It is sinful for a man to look upon and want what God has forbidden. Though Jesus was tempted and had no sin, his temptations were externally presented. He had no temptations arising from a corrupt heart. These corrupt and disgusting desires are themselves sin, and therefore to be repented of by the power of the Spirit and the sanctifying work of the Word.

4. We encourage evangelical congregations to be communities of grace in which those who experience same-sex attraction and seek to live faithfully in accordance with biblical teaching are welcomed and affirmed. Such Christians need churches which are safe spaces where they are able to share and explore their stories with fellow believers for mutual encouragement and support as we help each other grow together into maturity in Christ.

Are we called to be affirming of “those who experience SSA”? What exactly is this asking us to do and where in the Bible are we called to do this affirming?

When did we start calling the church a safe space? The gospel is an offense to those who are perishing, and, so, the church is far from a safe space.

And it’s a space in which we gather not to so much explore our own stories, but to explore the story of Christ come to save sinners, of Christ on the cross, in the grave, and resurrected, of the Holy Spirit, given to regenerate and sanctify us and bring us to right standing before God. If the sharing and exploring of our sexual stories is something pastors want for their churches, how do they want that to look? When is the story-sharing at a healthy level? After the service, in the coffee line, do the pastors want members making a habit of following up a question about cream with a question like, “How is your wife responding to you sexually at your autumnal age?” Would it not be appropriately mannered and dignified to talk about sexual sin and difficulty in the context of family or with a pastor or mentor?

5. We oppose moves within certain churches to accept and/or endorse sexually active same-sex partnerships as a legitimate form of Christian relationship and to permit the ordination to ministry of those in such sexual relationships. We stand prayerfully with those in such churches who are seeking to resist these moves on biblical grounds.

Amen. This is an honorable affirmation.

6. We oppose church services of blessing for civil partnerships and other forms of gay and lesbian relationships as unbiblical and reject any redefinition of marriage to encompass same-sex relationships.

Amen. Again, this is an honorable affirmation.

7. We commend and encourage all those who experience same-sex attraction and have committed themselves to chastity by refraining from homoerotic sexual practice. We believe they should be eligible for ordination and leadership within the church, recognising that they can bring invaluable insights and experience to the sphere of Christian pastoral ministry.

If I (Robert Turner, a faithfully married Christian man) confessed a sexual attraction to children, I would be disqualified from ministry. If I confessed continual lust and desire for women other than my wife, I would be disqualified from leadership. Such desires reflect a heart that is not in submission to Christ and not putting off the flesh by the power of the Holy Spirit.

Moreover, this position declares defeat before the battle is over. We do not always understand God’s purposes in these things (why certain men struggle in this area) and how long the battles will last.

What we do know from the Scriptures is that pastors are to be role models of faithful discipleship, Christian character, and fatherhood. Homosexual lust and intercourse is condemned in the strongest way in both the Old and New Testaments.

How can any evangelical church agree with the statement that those who experience same-sex attraction should not only be eligible for ordination, but esteemed for their invaluable insights into Christian pastoral ministry? Do we look to pedophiles for their invaluable insight? Or do we call them to repent and cry out to God for deliverance, renewal and salvation? Aren’t they candidates, not for the ministry, but for intense pastoral care and counseling?

Furthermore, does not this affirmation make the same error made by the Papists? And have we not learned from their error in viewing recent news full of stories of sexual abuse committed by “celibate” priests? Where in the Bible are men and women who desire sexual intercourse called to a commitment to celibacy? This is a recipe for disaster, which is precisely why Paul calls men and women who desire sexual intercourse to marry, and so protect themselves from sexual sin. It is not to be held up as God’s calling for those leaving homosexuality. How lame is that? “Come to Christ and be sexually frustrated all your days!” Christ offers something better to those who come to him. He offers newness, so that Paul can look at some in the church and say, “Such were some of you gay and effeminate. But no more.” He offers freedom from the judgment of God, and it is the judgment of God on man that Paul cites as the basis for homosexual lust. He offers power to want what He wants, to love and obey His law. And He tells His followers that, if they do not belong to the significantly small number of men in the world who do not burn with sexual desire and are tasked with uniquely taxing duties in the kingdom, they should get married (obviously man and woman) and have a fruitful marriage bed.

8. We welcome and support the work of those individuals and organisations who responsibly seek to help Christians who experience same-sex attraction as in conflict with their commitment to live in accordance with biblical teaching. This help will involve counsel and pastoral support to live a chaste life and, as part of this process, some may seek and experience changes in the strength or direction of their same-sex attractions.

It is good to see an openness to conversion therapy in this list of affirmations. The only issue I have with this is the passive statement that “some may seek” a change in the direction of their attractions. A good pastor doesn’t have this “some may seek” attitude. The good pastor knows that “all must labor” to repent of vile attractions and to embrace godly attractions. As he counsels men and women in his congregation toward this, he should do so with great confidence in the will of God in this area and the power of the Word.

9. We believe both habitual homoerotic sexual activity without repentance and public promotion of such activity are inconsistent with faithful church membership. While processes of membership and discipline differ from one church context to another, we believe that either of these behaviours warrants consideration for church discipline.

Why do so many of these convictional affirmations sound so convictionless? Is inconsistent the strongest word they could think of to identify the relationship between habitual buggery and church membership? Paul speaks much more manfully in 1 Corinthians 5. “We believe that either of these behaviours warrants consideration for church discipline.” Habitual buggery warrants consideration for discipline? That’s it? Public promotion of the LGBTQI+ agenda warrants consideration for discipline? Are we sure? Isn’t that just a little drastic? Can we really bring ourselves to go so far as to consider some sort of counteraction?

10. We encourage evangelical congregations to welcome and accept sexually active lesbians and gay men. However, they should do so in the expectation that they, like all of us who are living outside God’s purposes, will come in due course to see the need to be transformed and live in accordance with biblical revelation and orthodox church teaching. We urge gentleness, patience and ongoing pastoral care during this process and after a person renounces same-sex sexual relations.

This final affirmation begins with a call to churches to “welcome and accept sexually active lesbians and gay men”. Where I stand in agreement is with the goodness of public church meetings, open to anyone and everyone who would come to sit and hear God’s Word preached. But the word “accept” is too vague to be useful. What does it practically mean? Does that meaning have Scriptural warrant and consistent affirmation through church history (looking beyond the haze of the sexually revolutionized West)?

The affirmation continues with an urge to “gentleness, patience, and ongoing pastoral care”. Are those things good to urge? Yes, they are. But it sure seems to fit a pattern of finding this sin particularly daunting and deserving precious handling. We know we don’t need to repeat ourselves, but the preaching of the gospel is an offense to those who are in their sin. If Romans 1 is preached faithfully, not only is it not likely to be received as gentle and patient, but it will probably be soon considered a hateful crime. Paul is clear in Romans 1 that gays and lesbians are just as aware that they’re living in rebellion against God’s law as are those who are disobedient to their parents, slanderers, the malicious and murderers, the envious, and the gossips. Anyone on the LGBTQI+ Alphabet Carousel knows the righteous judgment of God, that those who practice such things are deserving of death. These rebels are not blind. The New Testament says that they know God’s judgment on their sins and that they deserve death. And so are we kinder and more gentle and patient when we speak to sinners with a greater softness than the Apostle Paul? Or are we kinder when we speak as he spoke?

We have above gone through the 10 Evangelical Alliance Affirmations because Living Out asks for affirmation of them from all those who attend their training. While some elements are fine, these affirmations would require a facelift more impressive than Michael Jackson’s before they’d look like real, genuine, gritty Biblical Christianity.

Because the affirmations ought not be affirmed, evangelical churches ought not host the Living Out training.

At this point, we think a summary of our case is appropriate.

If I am unjustly angry, I am in sin—even if I never say a harsh word or raise my fist against someone. If I am jealous of my brother’s financial status, I am in sin—even if I never say a rude word or steal a single penny. If I lust after a woman who is not my wife, I am in sin—even if I never even speak to her. If I lust after a child, I am in sin—even if I never touch him. If I lust after animals, I am in sin—even if I never pet them.

If I, as a man, lust after men, I am in sin—even if I never touch them. Scripture doesn’t deal gently or softly with the sin in our hearts. It doesn’t normalize evil desire. The shame and horror associated with any twisted and ungodly desire (adultery, bestiality, pedophilia, homosexuality) is a good gift of God that brings us to repentance. Shame is to the soul what pain is to the body, calling us to change course. Shame over sin is good. It is kind, right, and biblical.

Normalizing homoerotic desire is dangerous and unloving to brothers and sisters that Scripture calls to repent and cry out to God—be it daily or hourly. It is not something we cover in bubble wrap and keep in a fuzzy warm box and make sure it is okay to discuss over cookies and coffee in the fellowship hall.

Minimizing shame for the sins of effeminacy and homosexual lust is not loving. It’s hateful and harmful.

Within these affirmations, where is the firm Biblical condemnation of all things homosexual? Where is the language of rebellion and wrath and hell? Where is the Old Testament language of abomination? Where is the Romans language of homosexual desire being the judgment of God and a debased passion?

How many derisive snorts would come from John the Baptist’s nostrils if he had to read this Living Out-loved list? Do these affirmations capture truth? No, they don’t. Do they talk like they’re for pastors fighting the good fight? No, they sound more fitting for a room full of turtlenecks and fair trade chai tea.

Have we learned nothing from the fall of the mainline churches and Rome in the areas of sexuality and conformity to the culture? Do we think that Rome’s scandal of sexual abuse can be divorced from “celibate” homosexual men in the priesthood?

Is this where we are going as Baptists and evangelicals—condoning and promoting the ordination of “SSA celibate men” who have told us they lust for other men? Are these the men with whom we are going to entrust the care of our children and the discipleship of our families? Does anyone else find it baffling that these are even questions?

We are greatly concerned for where American evangelicalism is going in this area. We’re concerned for what our friends’ and brothers’ connection to Living Out teaches the saints. Will the stalwartness of so many good men be spoiled on this battlefront?

We must resist moral and theological compromise in this most critical subject of our time. The prophets of old would not have signed these affirmations. The apostles would not have signed these affirmations. The great men of the early church and the great men of the Reformation would not have agreed to these affirmations.

In light of the above concerns and objections, we urge those tasked with guarding the good deposit to not sponsor or partner with Living Out.

Your brothers in the Lord and fellow servants of Christ,

Robert Turner and David Burchard

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