Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Officially for Presbyterians, is homosexual practice sin?

Do you know what the official Presbyterian Church (USA) policy is on homosexual practice? Did you know there is such a policy, and that it is both clear and pastoral?

A public letter by Joan Gray, Moderator of the General Assembly, reminded me once again of how forgotten or ignored is the excellent counsel of the 1978 General Assembly policy statement on homosexuality. Moderator Gray characteristically operates in a wise and pastoral way, and I’m sure that was her intent in her letter. However, her memory of the 1978 policy document, now an Authoritative Interpretation, appears to leave something to be desired.

Moderator Gray argues that “the Authoritative Interpretation of the Constitution delivered in 1978, which is the basis of our understanding of how the church relates to homosexual persons, states that homosexuality or homosexual practice is not a bar to church membership.” That is not exactly correct.

First, as one turns to the actual paper, now available in PDF format on the web, the first 56 pages basically need to be discarded. This first part consists of a deeply flawed report merely “received” from a deeply divided task force. It was never approved. “It is reprinted as an aid to study and does not have official policy status,” the preface reminds us.

Still in effect as the policy of the church, however, are “the policy statement and recommendations, which were adopted as the official position of the General Assembly,” according to the preface. The policy statement and recommendations begin on page 57 on the paper version (page 55 of the PDF version).

So, to better elucidate what Moderator Gray has contended, what does Presbyterian policy say about homosexual practice and church membership? The policy certainly names homosexual practice as sin. Here are some instances:

  • "the practice of homosexuality is sin..."
  • "homosexuality is not God's wish for humanity..."
  • "homosexuality is a contradiction of God's wise and beautiful pattern for human sexual relationships revealed in Scripture..."
  • "the New Testament declares that all homosexual practice is incompatible with Christian faith and life..."

That is the official policy of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). Given that, what does one do about the questions of church membership and ordination? Well, starting with the understanding that the practice of homosexual behavior is sinful, then, according to Presbyterian policy, “for the church to ordain a self-affirming, practicing homosexual person to ministry would be to act in contradiction to its charter and calling in Scripture, setting in motion both within the church and society serious contradictions to the will of Christ.” Also, “our present understanding of God's will precludes the ordination of persons who do not repent of homosexual practice.” That’s our position on ordination.

What about church membership? The policy starts out by counseling against homophobia, wanting to treat all people with respect. That’s good and necessary. But then it turns to church membership:

As persons repent and believe, they become members of Christ's body. The church is not a citadel of the morally perfect; it is a hospital for sinners. It is the fellowship where contrite, needy people rest their hope for salvation on Christ and his righteousness. Here in community they seek and receive forgiveness and new life. The church must become the nurturing community so that all whose lives come short of the glory of God are converted, reoriented, and built up into Christian maturity. It may be only in the context of loving community, appreciation, pastoral care, forgiveness, and nurture that homosexual persons can come to a clear understanding of God's pattern for their sexual expression (emphasis added).

As one can see by noting the italicized words above, the emphasis is on someone at least intending to contritely repent and turn away from living in a way that comes short of the glory of God. It involves putting oneself in God’s hands as God points out a clear new pattern for orienting one’s sexual life and expression.

The policy states that “homosexual persons who sincerely affirm ‘Jesus Christ is my Lord and Savior’ and ‘I intend to be his disciple, to obey his word, and to show his love’ should not be excluded from membership” (emphasis added). The language is appropriately encompassing for those who have a homosexual orientation.

But given the fact that homosexual practice is sin, the emphasized words show the assembly’s intent that those who seek church membership understand the lordship of Jesus Christ in their lives and what discipleship and obedience to the Word means. This is no free pass for homosexual practice, as if that particular form of sin were inconsequential in respect to church membership.

I find it odd that some of our denominational leaders (although not Joan Gray) seem to be acting as if it were perfectly okay with Presbyterian policy for people to participate in homosexual sex, but, for some obscure reason, we've just decided not to ordain people who do so. Maybe we're just fussy or old-fashioned, they seem to imply.

But the Authoritative Interpretation of 1978 is a whole piece, and the lynchpin is the biblical and theological determination that homosexual practice is not God's will and is indeed sin. The rest of the policy flows from that: not ordaining those who practice unrepentant homosexual sex, not sinning by practicing homophobia either, treating even the sinner with respect, calling for true repentance and discipleship, and so on.

The foundation is that homosexual practice is indeed sin, as the Bible says it is. That simple declaration seems to have been largely lost, as people fall all over themselves not to appear judgmental or rude--or even very confident in what Scripture says to be true!

We do well to remember exactly what it is that Presbyterians have adopted as policy and have always held to be true, despite more than three decades of assault by secularizing ideas that would exchange God’s loving truth for the world’s destructive lies.

25 Comments:

Blogger Reyes-Chow said...

Jim, great to see your blog pop up on my reader. Hope you are well. While I may disagree with you on some things, I appreciate the care with which you engage in the dialogue. It has been a while since I have read this, but thanks.

5:40 PM, August 09, 2007  
Blogger Mexjewel said...

Jesus defines sin as lack of love. What is unloving about homosexuality? If you like shockers, look at that favorite anti-Gay Leviticus 18:22 in German. Martin Luther's Bibel (1545) has an original take on it that has been corrupted since Queen James and his version. (Get it at BibleGateway.com)

6:20 AM, August 10, 2007  
Blogger Presbyman said...

Thank you for your reflections, Jim.

Based on the pastoral language of the 1978 statement on homosexuality, tt seems to me that the whole church has an opportunity to more deeply reflect on what it means to sin and to repent of sin. I don't know that we are doing such a great job on that ... something definitely NOT limited to homosexuality.

All members or prospective members ... not just those struggling with homosexuality ... should be challenged to reflect upon their own sinfulness and the costly grace of God in Jesus Christ that enables us to be forgiven and to grow in sanctification.

Grace and peace,

John Erthein

7:10 AM, August 10, 2007  
Blogger Benjamin P. Glaser said...

I cannot help but think of when reading the second to last paragraph about Luke 12:4-5

12:24 PM, August 10, 2007  
Blogger Jim said...

To mexjewel:

That's an incomplete definition of sin. The Greek word hamartia means "missing the mark," with "the mark" being God's will for our sanctification.

And indeed, love certainly must mean something more than mindless permissiveness. We fool ourselves when we think that only WE can define what is loving; we are wise when we depend on God's guidance in determining what is in truth loving.

The first place to look for clues about what is NOT loving is in what God forbids. Doing or encouraging or even condoning what God forbids will never be loving.

"What is unloving about homosexuality?" Are you speaking of the practice of homosexual sex? Is it loving to inevitably cause physical injury by penetration? to spread disease and even death by a necessary inability to practice sufficient hygene? to cause another to sin by committing an act God has forbidden?

Before we quibble about some obscure translation from centuries ago, let's deal with 2,000 years of consistent, univocal interpretation, versus about 30 years of weak, unconvincing attempts to explain away the obvious. Or try refuting the excellent scholarship of Rob Gagnon about that particular passage. Sorry. When you get to Bible interpretation (as opposed to worldly popular opinion), you will lose the argument every time.

But none of this is new. I am amazed that such elementary arguments just keep getting raised, after being conclusively answered for decades if not centuries.

Mex, why labor so desperately to justify the unjustifiable? I can understand simple defiance. Go to a gay pride parade, and you see excessive defiance of God's righteousness. The badder the better. People desire the forbidden fruit, and they thumb their nose at God and go for it. I understand that.

But what I fail to understand is loopy attempts to make north south, or up down. Why even try? None of the arguments hold up.

Either one goes against the groin by going with Scripture as a reliable exposition of God's will, or one discards Scripture and goes with carnal desires that lead to destruction.

The basic argument for homosexual liberties is "But I WANT to do it." I understand that. The argument that "the Bible allows it," however, is a nonstarter.

Very frankly,

Jim Berkley

1:31 PM, August 10, 2007  
Blogger Jim said...

To John Erthein:

Amen! We all need repentance and forgiveness. We all need to take seriously exactly those points in our life where we cast aside what God wants and we go with what we demand instead. We are all miserable beggars at the feet of a very caring Lord.

To Benjamin P. Glasser:

You are so right! We worry about being deemed social Neanderthals for sticking with Christian morality rather than flitting off with social convention. We don't want to have societal scorn heaped on us because we're different. It would be so much nicer to be hip and easygoing by just sliding downhill along with our culture.

But there's something far more important than comfortable conformism: being faithful to our Lord and Savior. There are far worse things than being deemed "intolerant" by a pagan and God-defiling society. Denying God and God's lordship in our lives is one of those worse things.

Jim Berkley

1:45 PM, August 10, 2007  
Blogger John Shuck said...

Jim,

I applaud your straightforwardness here. I think you decision is quite logical. I I argued your viewpoint in 2001, although from a 180 degree perspective. I also commented on this this policy last year.

I hope you will move forward with this. It may finally wake up the moderates so we can remove this hateful policy at the 2008 General Assembly.

By the way, I will soon make a comment about this on my blog.

Grace and Peace,
John

6:20 PM, August 10, 2007  
Blogger John Shuck said...

Oops, missed the link. This is my comment from last year.

6:22 PM, August 10, 2007  
Blogger Jim said...

To John Shuck:

John, your argument made so much sense that in 2001-2002, nearly three-quarters of the presbyteries disagreed with you.

In 2006, even a greater proportion of General Assembly commissioners voted to uphold our biblical ordination standards, contrary to your counsel.

I would warn you not to take your arguments with you into a desert. They don't hold water.

The moment you can mount a credible BIBLICAL rebuttal against the cholarship of Robert Gagnon, I'll give it some time. But I'm sorry, your dispense-with-the-Bible's-meaning shuck and jive just doesn't play here. Nor will it ever.

I sometimes wonder why I have a blog. I could save an incredible amount of effort by sending people to your blog with the advice: "Believe and do just the opposite of what John says." It's amazing how often that would put them in exactly the right place biblically and theologically.

About "moving forward with this," I have no idea what you mean. There is no movement to make. This IS what our denomination has always stood for. Movement would have to be backward toward disobedience to God and heresy. But I'm not going there.

Jim Berkley

6:48 PM, August 10, 2007  
Blogger John Shuck said...

Thanks Jim,

By all means send them to me!

Blessings,
john

P.S. I have made my post.

7:01 PM, August 10, 2007  
Blogger Presbyman said...

Uh, Jim, talk about a Freudian slip! You wrote:

Either one goes against the groin

I just couldn't resist pointing that out. I guess it's apropos to the topic, even if inadvertant.

8:17 PM, August 10, 2007  
Blogger Aric Clark said...

You are right on with your interpretation of the letter of the law on this one. I will say so on my own blog in a week or so when I get the chance.

7:10 PM, August 11, 2007  
Blogger Doug Hagler said...

Hey Jim - its been a while.

"Are you speaking of the practice of homosexual sex?"

Here, *you're* actually talking about the practice of one kind of sex, which male homosexuals and heterosexuals engage in. More below.

"Is it loving to inevitably cause physical injury by penetration?"

I assume you're referring to anal sex here - which is something millions of American heterosexual couples engage in. I think if it *inevitably* caused injury, they'd probably have stopped by now.

"to spread disease and even death by a necessary inability to practice sufficient hygene?"

I think you should go to any sex education site to learn about anal sex, if you're really this interested in the topic. I still haven't seen significant evidence of these horrifying, deadly consequences you keep mentioning. I'm not that interested in it, but it seems that you can avoid causing injury and spreading disease pretty easily...I'm sure you don't want me to get into details on your comments page, but anyone can Google and start reading.

Also, these arguments are totally useless in regards to homosexuals who are women, or who are men and don't engage in anal sex.

"to cause another to sin by committing an act God has forbidden?"

This is the only meaningful argument you put forward, in my opinion. As you know, we disagree here, but here the question is how do you interpret the evidence, where above the question, for me, is still "where is the evidence at all?"

9:07 AM, August 12, 2007  
Blogger Arthur said...

Jim,

You said to mexjewl:

"Before we quibble about some obscure translation from centuries ago, let's deal with 2,000 years of consistent, univocal interpretation, versus about 30 years of weak, unconvincing attempts to explain away the obvious."

That's quite a statement that, quite frankly, doesn't hold water. Your claim that the 1545 Martin Luther translation is some obscure translation from centuries ago is plain and simple nonsense. Yes it is from centuries ago and about 70 years older than the King James (from centuries ago too) version, but it still survives mostly intact and is widely used by German speaking Lutherans, Baptists, and Pentecostals. So, before you go spouting off about "2,000 years of consistent, univocal interpretation," maybe you should consider the possibility that you're quite mistaken. Your statement sounds like revisionist history to me.

Arthur

10:21 AM, August 13, 2007  
Blogger Brian Ahier said...

Back to the point...
The official policy of the PCUSA is indeed that homosexual sex is sin. The vast majority of those in the pews agree with this interpretation (which might explain the hemmoraging membership due to the moral confusion of our denominational leadership).
Any sexual relationship outside the bounds of marriage between one man and one woman is sin. Period.

7:54 PM, August 13, 2007  
Blogger welderasf said...

So, once we've stopped allowing homosexuals to be members of the church, do we then move on to people who think it might be alright to allow homosexuals to be members of the church?

And then do we start working on kicking out all those who are pro-choice?

Then those who think it might be okay for a member of the church to be pro-choice, even if they are not pro-choice themselves?

Then who's next? Since you and those who agree with you seem to believe that you hold proprietary rights to the one and only true interpretation of every bit of scripture, the confessions and the Book of Order, can you just give us an explicit list of all the people who should be kicked out?

And when your list gets to be longer than half the population of the church, could you just leave already?

3:25 PM, August 14, 2007  
Blogger Jim Jordan said...

welderasf
So, once we've stopped allowing homosexuals to be members of the church, do we then move on to...blah, blah, blah

Oddly, membership has dropped for quite the opposite reason, unconditional acceptance. Do you really believe that pro-choicers and homosexuals are going to fill the pews? For many years, I didn't go to church for the same reason, I wasn't ready to listen to the call of Christ.

7:05 PM, August 14, 2007  
Blogger welderasf said...

If people are leaving because we're not strict enough, why is the fastest growing denomination "no church affiliation"?

7:57 PM, August 14, 2007  
Blogger Greg Wiest said...

Jim,
Thanks for the reminder of what our policy is. Unfortunately, we do not carry it out in practice across the PCUSA. This issue of membership and ordination of practicing homosexuals is the great divide. As an evangelical who holds to the authority of Scripture, there is no way I could ever compromise on Biblical standards for ordination which require that sexuality only takes place in the setting of marriage between a man and a woman. The other side of the aisle has made no indication of trying to abide by biblical and denominational standards. Now we have PUP which has created a loop hole for those who would compromise.
I see three options for evangelicals. 1-stay and battle on to the bitter end. 2-Leave the denomination or 3-work for non-geographic synods and presbyteries where like minded evangelicals may exercise biblical values and discipline. The third option is coming to the 2008 GA, incidentally, by way of Beaver Butler presbytery and the amendment is called eLink.

8:03 AM, August 15, 2007  
Blogger Robert said...

Three comments.

First, I think it is important for us all to remember that we are Christian brothers and sisters, struggling with one another to understand God's will in our lives and in our denomination. And insofar as we think we understand God's will, it is important for us to communicate that with compassion and understanding -- meeting those who disagree where they are, and leading them towards the light. Harsh words and tearing down others in this conversation are contrary to our witness of Christ and the unity of the body of Christ.

Second, my struggle with the issue of homosexuality stems from the basic question: "What's wrong with it?" Certainly the Bible comes out rather uniformly opposed to it, and I've heard the argument that it's non-procreative and therefore sinful. But that strikes me as odd, because that implies any non-procreative sexual activity is sinful, which isn't a position I've been convinced of.

If it's the specific form of sexual act, then why is it that homosexuality is picked on in specific, and anal sex in general? I don't see anti-anal sex diatribes populating the internet, and it seems generally false to fact of most people's motivation. And this also doesn't actually answer the question, because we're still left with "What's so sinful about anal sex?"

Sin is destructive. Those things we call sins are damaging to the human psyche and soul. However, I just don't see the destruction in a loving sexual relationship between two adults, whether heterosexual or homosexual.

For my third comment: even if homosexuality is a sin, I'm not sure that's enough to drive people out or keep them from joining. Or rather, if it is enough to drive people out, then we should also drive out the covetous, the adulterers, the addicts, and those argumentative ideologues who cannot express love to their enemies.

3:14 PM, August 18, 2007  
Blogger Doug Hagler said...

Hi again Jim. I'm just posting this comment to let you know that I mentioned you by name on my blog. I only did so to illustrate a point I was making about the medium of blogging, and don't mean to provoke anything, but thought I'd let you know so that you can read it for yourself if you like. I don't think you'll have a reason to take issue with the mention, but if you do, please let me know.

11:33 PM, August 18, 2007  
Blogger Aric Clark said...

Out of respect, this is to inform you that I've mentioned you by name on my blog, though not in a negative capacity.

9:26 AM, August 27, 2007  
Blogger Benjamin P. Glaser said...

Unfortunately for you mexjewel the best manuscripts we have of Lev. 18:22 (not to mention Romans 1) support the anti-homosexual reading of Scripture. By the way Jesus did not have define "love" the way you have.

4:32 PM, August 27, 2007  
Blogger Arthur said...

Benjamin,

Could you provide references/citations for what you call "best manuscripts"? When were they discovered? What makes them "best"?

As far as I have been able to determine, all Martin Luther revisions are consistent in the translation of Lev. 18:22 up until the revision of 1984.

3:00 PM, August 29, 2007  
Blogger Wile E Catt said...

Jim,
I'm getting to this subject way late, but I wanted to thank you so much for illuminating the current policy and bringing submission to the Lord Jesus Christ back into the conversation. I also appreciate your calling Mrs. Gray to account, somewhat. She has a gift of expressing herself, and she is very persuasive, but she seems to be sometimes using the gift for downright obfuscation. (Not intentionally, I'm sure.)

The frank discussion of the realities of homosexual practice is also necessary. Maybe a doctor would comment on the consequences of using any bodily orifice for a purpose for which it was not designed. Uh-oh. I said one of the only forbidden words in this "Christian" discussion. Guess which one it is? Of course, "everyone knows" that the body and it's orifices just happened, and somehow they just appeared, and happened to fit together because---(put your favorite materialistic rationalization in here)---and since it all happened by chance and God (if he's there at all) just kind of started, and it all happened, somehow. And since it just happened, we'll use whatever orifice we want to for whatever we want to, and maybe in a million years or so, it will evolve into something fit for what we want to (mis-)use it for.

My favorite rationalization is that a Creator created each intricate element of the body to work together, to run the living engine we call the body, along with the millions and millions of submicroscopic energy converters and manufacturing plants that make our bodies run; of course I also believe that he gave us a spiritually based individual personality. (I can imagine all of these millions and billions of elements coming together in a random way, over millions and millions of years, but I cannot imagine the mess we would have if that had happened.)

You got a good number of different posts. So many threads, but only one Truth. There are really only two major threads in most discussions these days.

One thread is by those who believe that the God who reveals himself in the written Word, the Holy Scriptures, and in the Living Word, Jesus Christ, can do what He says He can, and that He has done, is doing, and will do what He says He will, and that He reveals Himself as one God in three Persons; and that when we read and believe the Word he has been gracious enough to give us, we can trust what He says with our life, and that he rewards those who seek Him and His truth, with all their heart.

The other major thread I call the Redefiners, because the essence of maybe the most used tactic of dialectic logic and materialism has become the defacto redefinition of troublesome words by usage, through employing them in contexts where they often mean the diametric opposite of the commonly understood meaning.

(Does the common understanding of homosexuality have troublesome connotations? Let's just redefine it to mean one more beautiful human relationship, not a sexual relationship that Jesus Christ calls "unnatural relations".(Romans 1:25-27)) (And as a result now we have a new gender, with special rights, which is really solely defined by a sex act.)

(Imagine an honest, repentant, committed-to-celibacy, non-practicing, because of his relationship with Jesus Christ, gay person. What a wonderful addition
to the body of Christ. Now imagine every church member as an honest, repentant, committed-to-Christ- likeness, victorious through grace over their own besetting sin(s), because of his or her relationship with Jesus Christ. Would we have a revival/renewal in the body of Christ?) Now that's radical! (What's that you say - that's not what you mean by radical? Oh, so sorry. You say we're not
supposed to play your game? Oh, so sorry. You say, besides all that, that it's against the rules to admit that's what we're doing? Oh, so sorry.)

Little known facts:
Did you know that the average number of new HIV/AIDS cases for the year 2004 was about 40,000? The numbers have remained at that level or higher in the years since, I believe. (How many soldiers have been killed in Irag?) What percentage do you suppose that represents of the homosexual community? Is it your understanding that HIV/AIDS is an STD (Sexually Transmitted Disease)?
Did you know that HIV/AIDS-infected persons are not required/allowed to be tracked, with partner notification, contrary to the standard epidemiological rules for all other STDs? (HIV/AIDS carriers are protected based a presumption of a right of privacy under
the HPPA law.) How many fewer new infections do you suppose would occur each year if partner-tracking and notification were to be required for HIV/AIDS-infected persons?

(As you can see, I can't stop either, but you make a lot more sense than I do. I hope this is not bad form to be commenting this long after the fact. I am so grateful to see someone take a stand and speak plainly. As old as the post is, this is probably just a great help to me to be able to express some of the apologias I think of as I read. Any comments are appreciated, even if it's "you're crazy".)

Bob Gohlke
Wichita Falls, TX

2:10 AM, January 15, 2008  

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