Friday, January 28, 2005

Answers for Earl

In recent comments concerning how Christians shouldn't be expected to simply tolerate homosexual practice among fellow Christians, I set off an avalanche of questions by reader Earl Apel of Cincinnati. Earl is no newcomer to Presbyterian cyberspace. His good-natured and sincere--although sometimes off-kilter and illogical--questions and comments indicate a nice guy you'd often rather hug than spar with.

It appears that Earl couldn't let my posting go however, returning five times to leave comments. Let me see if I can succinctly clear away a few of his queries and challenges:
  • Does the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) consider homosexual practice an atrocity? The Authoritative Interpretation says such things as "the practice of homosexuality is sin." It talks of the need to "repent of homosexual practice." It says, "the New Testament declares that all homosexual practice is incompatible with Christian faith and life." So, is sin something light and meaningless? To God it is such an atrocity that it separates us from God. Jesus had to die to cover the price for the atrocity of sin. Yes, I would say that homosexual practice, like any other sin, is, to both God and believers, an atrocity.
  • The church is supposed to be open to homosexual persons, isn't it? Yes, definitely. No change of mind there. The church opens its doors to all to come in and experience God. In addition, being a homosexual person is not the same as practicing homosexual sex. The orientation is not the sin; succumbing to temptation and then to homosexual practice is the sin. It's not unlike appreciating pretty things not being a sin, but succumbing to greed and stealing them is.
  • You want a clear answer for what homosexual practice is. How about this for a try: Acting on same-sex temptations. Paul says to Timothy: "Shun youthful passions" (2 Tim 2:22). I think that's pretty clear, for a heterosexual or homosexual person. We don't ask, "Well, is THIS little kiss okay or THAT little touch? How much can I get away with and still not break the law?" Shun it all, as difficult as that will be. "Flee!" we're told.
  • What is it about homosexual practice that equates with evil like the Nazis? You're the one bringing in Nazis and equivalence. I was talking about two analogous things, not two equal things. But while we're at it, sin is sin. Any failure to live up to the righteousness of God demands separation from God. It is only by grace through faith that any of us is forgiven, but we cannot be forgiven for sins we refuse to call sins. So homosexual practice, just like fornication or adultery or lust or hatred or lying or whatever sin, including Nazi genocide, equates with separation from God, apart from confession, repentance, and Jesus Christ's atoning work.
  • Why can't all churches just be like College Hill, which simply loved you and taught you about Jesus? It's wonderful that a fine church like College Hill embraced you and showed you the love of Christ. Yes, all churches should be that way. But I would suspect that even College Hill, during the time of Jerry Kirk and Hal Schell and later with Pat Heartsock, also stood for God's Word and helped lead people toward transformation in Jesus Christ. There is no more disconnect between lovingly caring for a homosexual person and calling that person toward fullness of discipleship than there is between lovingly supporting a businessperson sent to jail for fraud and helping that person move beyond this sin. Churches are hospitals for the sick. We all need the care and correction, both.
  • Why pinpoint the sin of homosexual practice as an atrocity when there are plenty of other sins? You're absolutely right: sins like lying, cheating, gluttony, and Sabbath breaking are also atrocities. But none of them have dedicated advocates trying to erase the biblical record and all of Christian practice to say they are perfectly okay, such as homosexuality currently has. The battle is engaged precisely because there are those who wish to reverse our Christian standards for no better reason than the secular pendulum swing of sexual license.
  • Should charges be brought against every ordained Presbyterian, because all sin? No. Charges should be brought only against those who refuse to repent, considering their own devices and desires superior to God's will.
  • If I like the Authoritative Interpretation so much, as you quoted me saying from last June, and the Authoritative Interpretation says Presbyterians should work to decriminalize private homosexual acts, why then do I say that homosexual practice is an atrocity that should not be tolerated, and the guilty need to be brought to justice? Earl, I'm pleased! First, that's a fine logical argument you're mounting. Second, you actually remembered something I wrote seven months ago! Cool! Your logic is great, but you started with a faulty premise. I was not writing about criminal courts for homosexuals in society; I was referring to judicial remedies, if necessary, for practicing homosexual persons within leadership of the Presbyterian Church. But--the blame is mine on this one. I wasn't sufficiently clear. Thank you for giving me a chance to clarify that.


5 Comments:

Blogger Earl Apel said...

Dear Jim:

Thanks for your comments regarding my posts. I have further comments and questions. The dialog is great!

You note: "Paul says to Timothy: "Shun youthful passions" (2 Tim 2:22). I think that's pretty clear, for a heterosexual or homosexual person. We don't ask, "Well, is THIS little kiss okay or THAT little touch? How much can I get away with and still not break the law?" Shun it all, as difficult as that will be. "Flee!" we're told."

Personally I think the King James verison says it best where the word lust is used intstead of passions. On that I have no argument. For when engaging in lust that does cause one to focus more on the physical than the spiritual. But we all know that those who follow Christ and put the spirit first in their life are more rational. And as such they form loving relationships with others that are in the framework of the spiritual. And so their passions (or lust) are not the main focus. This is true for the opposite-sex just as the same-sex. So again the question comes down to what is the homosexual practice and why is it an atrocity when a person clearly is in Christ and his/her life is ovbiously focused on the spiritual just as a heterosexual is? The fact is there is no difference. I'm sure you would see nothing wrong with a man and woman holding hands at church who are both dedicated Christians and don't put lust first. Am I to conclude from this verse the same is true for two men doing the same since they are not putting lust first?

You note about College Hill: "But I would suspect that even College Hill, during the time of Jerry Kirk and Hal Schell and later with Pat Heartsock, also stood for God's Word and helped lead people toward transformation in Jesus Christ. There is no more disconnect between lovingly caring for a homosexual person and calling that person toward fullness of discipleship than there is between lovingly supporting a businessperson sent to jail for fraud and helping that person move beyond this sin. Churches are hospitals for the sick. We all need the care and correction, both."

You are absolutely right. It is like a hospital for the sick and I indeed was sick. I actually have College Hill to thank for bringing me to wholeness with dealing with my being gay. And it gave me great gifts of knowing the love of Christ, how we are all ministers to each other (a motto they had), a deepening appreciation for the Bible and its study, and the importance of giving the gift and healing I receive to others. And so that is what I did. Of course we didn't agree on the issue of homosexuality and as I completed my healing process needed to move on as many do. I'm very grateful that God led me to Mount Auburn that while more liberal has very much the same focus on Christ, spirit and love that I knew at College Hill. I liked something I learned at College Hill in a two-year course of Bible study. There was the theme that we are blessed to be a blessing. And I found that to be true and important to remember as I moved on.

Regarding the focus on a particular sin you note: "But none of them have dedicated advocates trying to erase the biblical record and all of Christian practice to say they are perfectly okay, such as homosexuality currently has. The battle is engaged precisely because there are those who wish to reverse our Christian standards for no better reason than the secular pendulum swing of sexual license."

You are correct about the dedicated advocates. But then one has to wonder why are they so dedicated? Do you honestly think gays are just hanging out in the church for the heck of it because we have nothing better to do and think it might be fun to stir up some trouble? There is much more to that for when one finds life in Christ, you are indeed a new person and you just can't walk away from that to somewhere where you might be more comfortable. You discover truth in faith and that truth may be at odds with others in the faith. There comes a choice where you decide to take the easier approach and leave where there is not so much fuss. I don't blame those that do. But then the other choice is to remain because you find value in the institution despite those things that might irritate. It comes down to that popular question "What would Jesus do?" And Jesus does not forsake but rather is not afraid to carry on and be faithful to his followers. I and others of course find much comfort in that.

You note about charges: "Should charges be brought against every ordained Presbyterian, because all sin? No. Charges should be brought only against those who refuse to repent, considering their own devices and desires superior to God's will."

In my view I do think it is important for us all to help others be aware of sins they may need to address or need to repent. God many times in my life has spoken to me through other persons on areas I need to address. I think that is the way God works for the most part through people. But it is also on a more personal basis than public.

While I affirm the judicial process of the PC (USA) what I find bothersome is the public nature of accusations related to the gay issue. It seems to me it makes our process much like the sensationalistic ones we have in the secular world such as Michael Jackson's or Martha Stewart's trial. And I think what is noteworthy about the secular world is we like those because it shows someone else that has power or influence being brought down. And we like that because it is easy to focus on that and not on ourselves and our own shortcomings.

I think the problem we all need to be aware of is how easy it is to point out what we think are the sins and shortcomings of others and perhaps what we may think is even their arrogance if they don't see them as sins nor want to repent. It seems to me when it comes to sin we are called in the church to work side by side in a more personal way as ministers to each other and work for reconciliation as brothers and sisters in the faith. With the judicial process as it has been used recently, I understand the passion and can relate to that. But then I think the unfortunate result is the loss of our common faith in Christ and responsibility of ministering to each other in a more pastoral manner and with sensitivity.

I could go on about this more but am rambling as it is. Thanks again for the dialog and listening.

Have a great week!

Best,
Earl Apel

3:32 PM, January 29, 2005  
Blogger Earl Apel said...

Dear Jim,

Some additional thoughts. Hope you don't see this as another avalanche? Just kidding :-)

Actually I'm one that finds it best to post thoughts as they come rather than wait awhile. There are pros and cons to both approaches.

I thought more about your note that some thoughts I have are illogical. I can understand that. Believe it or not I have worked in software development for 25 years. There the logic prevails otherwise we have those nasty bugs that crop up in our systems.

Yet in faith I think it is much different. After all we are believing in a God we can't see or touch and in a Christ we have no video record of. Is it really logical in a humanistic sense to have this belief? I think not. But the difference is we have this personal relationship with our God and Savior. We are never the same and as thus are not always logical in the world view of things. Was it even Paul that said he was a fool for Christ in so many words?

And Christ certainly didn't seem that logical in what he did for us did he? I don't mean to equate myself with Christ but then as believers I think at times we do have to go out on a limb that might seem crazy to others. That is the joy of being a Christian is our freedom in doing so and knowing that is OK.

Lord knows a person could find in the end being wrong about something. I've always felt that if I am truly God will surely show me that since God cares about me and loves me. This will seem illogical to the world but in the spiritual sense it is logical. The problem comes down to when people who are in the spiritual sense have a disagreement about an issue. Is it a case of where one is right and the other wrong? Or could both be wrong in the end? I don't know. But it just seems to me people need to be willing to get together and talk about it, not fussing over it or being devisive. This applies not only to conservatives but liberals as well and those in the middle.

I may be foolish in the end but think there has to be a better way to all of this than what keeps happening in our denomination. It's that famous quote "Why can't everyone get along?"

But in getting along we still need to be able to express our thoughts and beliefs on certain issues and those need to be respected. I'm one that trys to find middle ground when it comes to a faith community. It just seems that is more the way of Christ in the end. Christ didn't make the point of there being losers and winners. Rather Christ died so that we all are winners.

I'll attach a note I wrote in response to Earl Tilford on presbyweb with my letter. I don't mean it to be disrespectful but rather raise more questions. The problem it seems to me is how we want to use certain terms and labels to make the argument so slimplistic. But it really isn't when you are talking about real people.

Best,
Earl Apel

**** Copy of letter in response to Earl Tilford ****

Dear Editor:

Dr. Earl Tilford notes that sodomy is quite clear in noting what homosexual practice is. I thank him for clearing that up for me. Without getting into the details some might find unappealing, in consideration of historical context with the Biblical passages, sodomy is unwanted sex where mutual love and affection is not present. Therefore if two people of the same sex show love and affection to each other and in light of their affirmation with God that is not sodomy. And therefore the latter doesn’t qualify as homosexual practice either. For love is love between two people who affirm each other and their faith in God. It is love practice, not heterosexual or homosexual practice.

Earl C. Apel

Member, Mount Auburn Presbyterian Church

Cincinnati, Ohio

7:04 PM, January 29, 2005  
Blogger geoffrobinson said...

Earl,

Let me add something else. This comes from a reading of Romans 1.

Homosexual sex is a clear sign that humanity has fallen into a pit. Cellebrating it is truly sad. It is a result of our main problem, our sin-orientation, just as the acts are sin themselves.

9:33 PM, January 29, 2005  
Blogger Earl Apel said...

Dear Geoffrey,

I hesitate in posting a response lest I contribute more to another avalanche that maybe Jim might not be able to handle. Well we know he can I think :-) But you ask a good question.

The answer is quite simple. If a man is naturally attracted to a woman and loves her it would be wrong to engage in same sex relations just for the heck of it. That is the important point of this Scripture that we not engage in what is not natural for us as God has created us to be. For me to marry a woman or have affectionate relations with her would be an atrocity (per Jim's reasoning) since I would be rejecting the natural in my being that God created me to be.

I like the verse in Chapter 2 that states (King James version): "Therefore thou are inexcusable, O Man, whosoever thou art that judgest; for wherein thou judgest another, thou condemnest thyself; for thou that judgest doest the same things. But we are sure that the judgment of God is according to truth against them which commit such things."

In the end God's truth is what matters. Not what Jim B., you, or even myself thinks. Heaven forbid if any of us thought we had the final say and truth. That's what the Bible is telling us in this case. Isn't that wonderful?

Some food for thought,

Your Brother in Christ,

Earl Apel

7:05 PM, January 30, 2005  
Blogger geoffrobinson said...

Earl,

This argument is not consistent, nor is it convincing. Sleeping with those against your orientation for the heck of it? Makes no sense. If you were attracted to someone, according to proponents of this line of reasoning, it would be natural. This view, to get around the clear words of Romans, try to posit people who sleep with others even though they have no desire to. Or they have a desire to, but it goes against their orientation...just confused reasoning to get around Scripture.

Earl...honestly, you know the truth deep down inside. The interpretation that makes sense is the historic, orthodox one. Unnatural relations are those that go against the male-felmale union. This is easy to understand because that's how the plumbing, if I may be crude, is built.

5:47 PM, January 31, 2005  

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