Friday, November 24, 2006

How do we help the healing?

I’ve not really had any interest so far weighing in on Ted Haggard, but I’ve been reading and hearing some interesting viewpoints on the issue, and it got me thinking. Ellen Goodman’s recent column in particular focused on how Haggard’s story and the repulsion he has expressed with himself has really highlighted the fundamental differences between how the two sides in the debate on same-sex relationships view such circumstances:

How do we think about this repulsion? In the aftermath of his revelation, reactions were as bifurcated as our culture. Sympathy came in two varieties.

On the one hand, there were congregants, fellow ministers and letters-to-the-editor writers who heard a man wrestling with real demons. Their sympathy was for a sinner.

On the other hand, there were people who heard a man wounded by the culture of demonization. Their sympathy was for a man primed for repression and deception by the teaching of homosexuality as a sin.


This really brought home to me exactly why this issue is so divisive within the church; we’re talking people’s salvation here. I don’t mean that in the “who gets into heaven” sense—I mean the deeply rooted differences in exactly how to save people like Ted Haggard from the rock bottoms they’ve spiraled down to. To do that, you have to attack the root cause, and that’s where the differences are so deep. To conservatives, the homosexuality itself was the sin. Not the feelings, perhaps, but acting on them in any form. If that’s the case, then Ted’s climb back from rock bottom would involve therapy to help him deal with these feelings so he could learn how to not act on them. Basically, what he’s been doing all along with little success.

But what if his sexual orientation was not the problem? What if the root sin was denying who he is? What would climbing back from rock bottom look like then?

I suspect it might look a lot like D., a woman I’ve had the pleasure of getting to know while working against the Arizona marriage amendment. D. became involved in a same-sex relationship with S. in college. When her conservative Christian parents found out, they pulled her out of school and forbid any contact between her and S. She went through all the self-loathing Ted Haggard describes, trying to connect to God hoping he’d change her and even going to a church where she was assigned someone to watch over her and help her change. But instead of leading to healing, it only led into deeper and deeper depression and despair to the point where she wanted to die.

Eventually, D. and S. found each other again. D. got away from her parents’ influence and stopped trying to be something she wasn’t . She and S. rekindled their relationship and got married in San Francisco during those few days in 2004 when city hall was performing same-sex weddings.

Today, D. and S. are one of the healthiest couples I know. They’re the kind of couple you just want to be around because they’re so good together. Knowing them, I can’t reconcile the concept of the inherent sinfulness of same-sex relationships with the reality of how healing their relationship has been for D. Sin, no matter how good it feels at the time, always brings brokenness. Ted Haggard is example enough of that. But when D. admitted who she was and stopped trying to be something she wasn’t, when she and S. built a life together, she wasn’t made more broken—the brokenness finally began healing.

I know a lot of people like D. I know a lot of couples like D. and S. They make me wonder, what if Ted Haggard had decided not to struggle against his sexual orientation when he was younger? What if he hadn’t gotten married to a woman and had five kids with her? What if he had formed a healthy relationship with a man instead? Would that have kept him from the meth? Would that have kept him from visiting prostitutes? I don’t know, but I do know that’s exactly how healing happened for many other gay men and lesbians. And if the conservative church is wrong, if same-sex relationships are not inherently sinful, then the way we treat the issue, by urging people to change, to struggle against who they were meant to be and to pretend to be what they are not—that’s the root sin here. We the church are causing all this misery.

Now, I get that if the progressive church is wrong then being lenient on sin could contribute to it. I certainly used to think that way myself, but the evidence I saw in the real lives of the people I’ve met just didn’t bear that out. If there’s even one D. and S, even one couple whose same-sex relationship has been a source of healing, isn’t it incumbent upon us to consider whether or not it’s our interpretation of the Bible that’s wrong? If there’s reasonable doubt, shouldn’t we look for the solution that best allows people their own relationship with God and their own path to healing?

What if there were a third way to deal with this issue, a way that didn’t rely on us being right? When Jesus was asked what to do with the woman caught in adultery he saved her from the scorn of others by pointing out that everyone is a sinner. And when he told her “go and sin no more,” he didn’t define the sin for her or hound her into accepting his definition of sin. He let the grace of his salvation work on her heart in its own way. Did she stop sinning? I’m sure she didn’t, because no one has successfully cut sin completely out of their lives. She may have stopped committing the specific sin of adultery, but we don’t know one way or another because it’s irrelevant to the story. All we do know is that she received Christ’s grace anyway. Wouldn’t this be the best model for the church to follow in how we treat GLBT people? If we were to make it our goal to get in the way of the people throwing rocks and let that grace work on the would-be targets, then it wouldn’t matter how we define sin. We’d be opening the door for God to work on people’s hearts without our interference.

11 Comments:

At 2:38 AM, Blogger Dr. Don said...

Okay, let me wade in here. I'm pretty sure I'll end up wanting to revise, maybe on my own blog, but you make a couple of very interesting points I want to respond to.

First and foremost, you are so correct in your observation that God's grace comes to us because we are sinners. It isn't just to make us better, although it may. His mercy, as the Psalmist said, is new every morning, precisely because we wake up each day as sinners.

I have my own two friends. They are hetero, and several years ago they had an affair. They have since divorced and married each other, and they are one of the happiest couples you would ever want to meet. They had both experienced a great deal of pain in their lives, and their relationship has brought each so much healing. Now the sin here is undeniable; so then is also the immensity of God's grace.

I have no great desire to convince anyone of the sinfulness of homosexual relationships, but I'm not so sure you can use the fact that God has been gracious to men and women in the midst of same-sex relationships as proof one way or the other.

 
At 2:38 AM, Blogger Dr. Don said...

Okay, let me wade in here. I'm pretty sure I'll end up wanting to revise, maybe on my own blog, but you make a couple of very interesting points I want to respond to.

First and foremost, you are so correct in your observation that God's grace comes to us because we are sinners. It isn't just to make us better, although it may. His mercy, as the Psalmist said, is new every morning, precisely because we wake up each day as sinners.

I have my own two friends. They are hetero, and several years ago they had an affair. They have since divorced and married each other, and they are one of the happiest couples you would ever want to meet. They had both experienced a great deal of pain in their lives, and their relationship has brought each so much healing. Now the sin here is undeniable; so then is also the immensity of God's grace.

I have no great desire to convince anyone of the sinfulness of homosexual relationships, but I'm not so sure you can use the fact that God has been gracious to men and women in the midst of same-sex relationships as proof one way or the other.

 
At 11:54 AM, Blogger Neil said...

"if same-sex relationships are not inherently sinful"

That's a mighty big "if." The Bible is not that vague on this topic. 100% of the references to homosexual behavior denounce it in the strongest possible terms, 100% of the verses referencing God's ideal for marriage involves one man and one woman and 0% of the verses reflect on homosexual behavior in a positive or even benign way.

Wringing our hands over what God really means in this case is just worldly thinking. That humans think some gays have great relationships means nothing with respect to what God thinks of sin.

We should treat GLBT people with grace . . . and truth. Just like Jesus did to us.

I encourage people to read Responding to pro-gay theology.

 
At 12:22 PM, Blogger Neil said...

P.S. I reject the notion that orthodox Christians are putting God into a little box. Seems to me that the pro-GLBT theology crowd is doing a fine job of creating their own god in their own box. Liberals do not have a monopoly on grace.

 
At 8:26 PM, Anonymous Larry B said...

Couple of thoughts:

I have a close friend in the church who has chosen the opposite path - being that she came to understand her homosexuality as being in direct conflict with her understanding of God's will for her and has since married a man (with full disclosure to her spouse) and they too are happy and healthy.

So we can both point to competing examples where the church supposedly drove one person into deeper and deeper depression and despair to the point where she wanted to die and another person whom it lead to a satisfying life change and healing by following the churches guidance.

Perhaps it's not the churches theology that lies at the heart of these problems. I personally doubt that the gospel message primary intention was to bring personal healing and wholeness into one's personal life here on earth. There is plenty of reference by Jesus himself about the conflict the gospel message brings and their is specific counsel that one had to deny oneself to take up his cross and follow him. Maybe for us as a people we have become too tied to ourselves and our own personal wholeness to understand what is really being offered to us. Let's face it, the US has become entirely enamored with the individual and it's happiness and the church is being pressured to buy into and support that.

One other thought, if, as you pointed out, we are dealing with a persons salvation here and we don't want to error, there is a 100% surety in this area. God has ordained the heterosexual relationship and has made it clear that that union is blessed. The homosexual relationship is at the very best still open for question. If one wants to be sure, there is a 100% sure answer.

 
At 10:08 PM, Blogger the-unintentional-blogger said...

This is a really interesting slant on this whole subject. Ultimately, it's up to Ted to decide what part of his actions constitute sin. If he thinks that homosexuality was part of his sin, then I'm sure he will seek out people who will council him in that manner. If he thinks that homosexuality is not sinful, then he'll reject any of that council.

I'm not sure denying who you area would be a "root sin". I think there is always a tension in a Christian's life between who you are and who you're supposed to be. I can identify several areas in my life where I struggle against who I am in order to become who I believe God has called me to be. That's because of the fall of Adam and Eve. We will always struggle with sin. And I think it's dangerous to use the fact that there is a struggle as justification that a thought or action is not sinful.

I do agree that people should find their own path to God. I cannot dictate to anybody how they can develop a relationship with God. But that doesn't mean I have to think that their way is biblically accurate. What's more, I think it's my responsibility to act in ways that are representative of my interpretation of the bible. I know your support of homosexuality is at least partially because you believe it's biblical. So is my belief that homosexuality is a sin.

I think I probably have more to say about this, but if I do, I'll post it in my blog. As always, i appreciate the opportunity to think more about these issues that you present.

 
At 5:45 AM, Blogger Bad Methodist said...

I'm not sure denying who you area would be a "root sin". I think there is always a tension in a Christian's life between who you are and who you're supposed to be. I can identify several areas in my life where I struggle against who I am in order to become who I believe God has called me to be.

Good point, but what I'm talking about with the people I know is that in accepting their sexual orientation they became the people they were supposed to be. That's what I mean by the healing aspect. Now we can argue all day about whether or not they really are supposed to be that, but Jesus says we know people by their fruit, and knowing these people and the fruit their lives have produced, I can't reconcile that with their relationship being against God's will.

 
At 9:48 PM, Blogger fastlad said...

1. There is no such thing as a homosexual; there are only heterosexuals who have occasionally or very frequently have/had homosexual sex.

2. When heterosexuals indulge their desire to have homosexual sex, it is still not an indication of a homosexual orientation, it is merely a very different kind of heterosexual thrill-seeking. See?

3. The people most likely to have deep insights into the origin of homosexual desire are people to whom it has never happened, and who find the idea repulsive.

4. We lived without evolution and gravity for millennia, after all, and the majority of us have little use for either in our daily lives. Sir Charles Darwin and Sir Isaac have nothing to teach us, just as homosexuals should never be consulted for their views on homosexuality.

5. What century, do you think, are you currently living in?

 
At 10:02 PM, Blogger fastlad said...

Note to Bad Methodist: I think its salutary and commendable that you have chosen to stand up for a - let's face it - menaced and often violently oppressed minority.

Having done so now you will certainly experience a little of the discrimination and opprobrium directed at GLBT people daily in American society. That makes your decision to stand with them twice itself, well done.

 
At 10:55 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Fastlad ... huh?

Forgive me if I misconstrued, but I think you're trying to say that now that enlightened individuals have "discovered" homosexuality, that we should learn from them, just as we learn from Sir Isaac Netwon who discovered gravity.

The problem is that today's modern generation didn't discover anything. The Bible speaks of such behavior thousands of years ago, so unless I misunderstood your post, your comparison is not an equivalency at all.

Furthermore, you attempt to defend homosexuality as "merely a very different kind of heterosexual thrill-seeking." When I read this I wasn't sure which side you were on.

Thrill-seeking to satisfy one's own desires rather than living as we are called to is wrong whether or not you are homosexual. We are called to love all people, and Jesus reminds us that we too are sinners.

Those who spew hate at homosexuals are wrong, too. I don't see their sins as any worse than any of my sins, but I certainly don't expect God's church to embrace my sins, but to lovingly show me the true way.

 
At 6:50 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi there bad methodist... interesting name... I wanted to thank you for this post. I really think you are struggling with the issues very truthfully, and seeking the good of people like Ted Haggard, D & S, etc...
I liked the comments you made about Jesus' approach to sin with the woman who comitted adultery as well... We need to have grace in dealing with people, and unfortunatley the church doesn't do that very well...
I also agree with some other bloggers here though in saying homosexual relationships (the sex part of it) just isn't biblical. I don't care how you interpret it, you just can't get there. Now I think the Bible makes it clear that deeply emotional relationships between 2 people of the same sex is good and wholesome. David and Jonathan, Ruth and Naomi, Paul and Silas, but the point is, (unless you infer it into the text) they weren't sexual. Sex is a gift of God to humanity to be used in a certain way. I believe that the bible makes it clear that that's between a man and a woman (not of the same family, same parents, or same sex...) I mean that's just the way I think a biblical point of view of sex has to lead you... With that said, we as a church, esp. the UMC, need to learn how to love and deal with people who struggle with same-sex attraction in a way that accepts them and urges them on to perfection (in good Wesleyan fashion)... That might mean accepting them where they are, but then urging them (and not turning a blind eye) to run the race, fight temptation, and provide them a place to have community, companionship, love... (the issue of a lack of space for singleness is a totally other issue) I pray that we will learn together how to love people and see Christ's kingdom of God advance into all areas of our nation and world...
Jon

 

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