Earlier last month, one of the largest evangelical churches in San Francisco, City Church, official changed their position on Same Sex partnerships. My Facebook feed blew up with comments and blog posts, both about this, and then subsequently with the Presbyterian Church (USA) officially moving in the same direction, and the ongoing battle over Reparative Therapy, and the unfolding war over religious freedom and photographers, bakers, florists, etc… A full on culture war ensuing over social media… Honestly, I closed my computer, took a deep breath, and decided to bounce on the trampoline with my daughters. I needed a minute…or a week or two to gather my thoughts and sort through all my “feels” about all this. I have a lot of them. But in the interest of brevity and sanity, I have decided that today, dear reader; I am only going to focus my feels on a few sentences. I am sure later posts will focus on the other arguments and issues floating around in my head, but today, just a few problematic sentences.
When I heard the news about City Church, I immediately went to their website and read the “Letter from the Elders” regarding their new position. It was only a little into the letter that these words captured my attention, and grieved my heart. Here is the direct quote from their letter:
“Our pastoral practice of demanding life-long “celibacy”, by which we meant that for the rest of your life you would not engage your sexual orientation in any way, was causing obvious harm and has not led to human flourishing…Imagine feeling this from your family or religious community: “If you stay, you must accept celibacy with no hope that you too might one day enjoy the fullness of intellectual, spiritual, emotional, psychological and physical companionship. If you pursue a lifelong partnership, you are rejected.” This is simply not working and people are being hurt. We must listen and respond.”
Oh so many feels…
BIG PROBLEM – The False Dichotomy
Immediately upon reading this statement, an either/or scenario is being constructed which essentially says, for those who have SSA, here are your only two options: lifelong hopeless loneliness, or personal fulfillment and exile. With a set of options like that for those with SSA, it sets the church up with an either/or of its own: either impose a hopeless lonely life, or reject those who want to flourish. I can understand how this church viewed these options as unacceptable. I can understand how something about their beliefs or convictions had to change in order to respond, in Biblical love, to those facing SSA. The problem plaguing their conclusion to embrace same sex relationships is, in all reality, fundamentally not about same sex attraction at all. The false dichotomy itself reveals a profoundly flawed view of God’s character to those who are not married. Let me unpack that.
“Our pastoral practice of demanding life-long “celibacy”, by which we meant that for the rest of your life you would not engage your sexual orientation in any way, was causing obvious harm and has not led to human flourishing.”
The above statement essential concludes that in order to truly flourish as a human being, you MUST engage your sexual orientation. If you don’t, that will cause obvious harm. A conclusion you could draw from this is that all believers who are NOT same sex attracted, but who have been dealt the hand of unwanted singleness, cannot possibly flourish as humans and would do themselves harm by attempting to remain chaste and celibate until such time that marriage becomes available. WHAT?! By this logic, all my single friends out there, you are living sub-par lives and cannot possibly experience a flourishing life unless you “express your sexual orientation.” I am sorry, but this statement is not only illogical, but it is downright offensive. This statement marginalizes all single believers. It creates an either/or that robs the unmarried of joy, contentment, and hope. It makes our marital status a value statement, elevating the married to a higher state of humanity, rather than equally valuing the single person as much as the married person. Frankly, this dichotomy does more harm to the single person than a requirement to live a faithful life of chastity and celibacy. With that said, there are certainly challenges unique to the life of the celibate that need to be addressed more effectively within the Body of Christ, but imposing such a hopeless, demeaning view of singleness is not the answer.
Another flaw with this statement is that it is an extremely subjective ethic that begs for some sort of boundary to restrict it. Meaning, does absolutely EVERYONE need express their sexual orientation, or else experience harm? What is the implication if that is the case? Do we, in order to not let another human experience the “harm” of possible lifelong restraint, instead sanction or bless the expression of all sexual orientations? Do we really want to open that Pandora’s Box? Taking this statement on its own logic begs that conclusion, or else relies upon some other ethic to determine what sexual orientations are acceptable, and which are sinful out of bounds that justifies the “harm” that would result from restraint... but since this church has just neutered the Bibles authority to do just that, where do we look for a new sexual ethic?
Let’s move on to another issue:
“If you stay, you must accept celibacy with no hope that you too might one day enjoy the fullness of intellectual, spiritual, emotional, psychological and physical companionship.”
A conclusion that we come too based on this statement: God is impotent. When the statement is made that those with SSA must accept lifelong celibacy with NO HOPE... Pardon me, but since when did the creator of the universe lose his ability to change, transform, or heal our desires? Sure, He can create the cosmos, He can raise us from the dead, He is sovereign over all of creation… but my sexual desires are too powerful and too immovable for Him. In order for you to rationally believe that God CAN NOT effect change over sexuality, you MUST diminish His power. Consequently, if we buy the lie that God is incapable of effecting change in the desires of those with SSA, where exactly does that leave room for hope for a life renewed and transformed in any other life struggle? Exactly what struggles are within God’s ability to transform and redeem, and which struggles are just too far gone? Now, a more complete conversation on what healing and change actually might look like in the life of the believer is needed, but for today, let’s just leave it at the question; When did God become impotent?
Like I said…just a few sentences, but a whole lot of feels!! When it comes down to it, the conclusions City Church reached reflects a disbelief in God’s ability to heal and transform, and an inability for a single life to be fulfilling and flourishing. These are both conclusions that we cannot biblically agree with. Personally, I have experienced and witnessed God prove the contrary time and again, through my own life, through the lives of many people I have ministered to, and in the lives of many I call my friends. These statements dishonor all of those lives. I do appreciate that City Church saw that their requirements for a hopeless single life was un-biblical. However, I’d rather they would have confronted their own un-biblical beliefs that created the false dichotomy, than throwing away thousands of years of biblical wisdom regarding sexuality, hope, and redemption.
There is more conversation to be had about City Church’s change, and the conclusions they reached that propelled this shift. But for now may I ask all who read this: Do you believe God is powerful and redemptive? Do you believe that God graces the single life and the married life to flourish equally, differently for sure, but equally? Can we seek to be a church that supports those contending with a single life, whether that is by choice or circumstance? Can we calmly think about the claims truly being made by such shifts in the Church, and compare the conclusions drawn with what the Bible clearly reveals about God’s character? These questions matter… They will inform how we live out our faith, and how the church functions.
Thanks for hearing out my “feels”.