Touchstone: A Journal of Mere Christianity
“The Summer of Our Discontent” first appeared in the November/December 1998 issue of Touchstone.
The Summer of Our Discontent
The Churches on Homosexuality
by David Kyle Foster
There he was, wife at his side, on the August 17 cover of Newsweek. Ex-gay John Paulk is the new “Homosexuality & Gender Analyst” for the Legislative & Cultural Affairs department of Focus on the Family. Wife Anne’s picture had already dominated a full-page ad in the July 13 New York Times, with the words, “I’m living proof that truth can set you free” (from homosexuality). They have been at the center of a freshly ignited debate over homosexuality from both inside and outside the church. Para-church groups, such as Focus on the Family, have finally considered the issue of homosexuality important enough to create a staff position specifically to address it.
The Center for Reclaiming America, associated with Dr. D. James Kennedy’s Coral Ridge Ministries, became the linchpin for a coalition of more than a dozen evangelical ministries that financed and produced a series of full-page ads in newspapers, including USA Today (July 15), The Washington Post (July 14), The Washington Times (July 21), The San Francisco Examiner (August 16), The Chicago Tribune (July 28), The Los Angeles Times (July 27), The Miami Herald (July 29), The New York Times (July 13), and The Wall Street Journal.
Pro-gay activist groups responded with ads of their own, charging that the conservative ads were politically motivated and harmful to homosexuals.
Defending the ads, Campaign Coordinator Janet Folger says they were designed for two purposes: “(1) To express a message of hope for change for homosexuals, and (2) in response to the animosity from gay activists over remarks made by professional football player Reggie White and Senator Trent Lott that homosexuality was a sin, to make a statement that the First Amendment of the Constitution is not just for the ‘politically correct’.”
Frank Worthen, one of the founders of Exodus International (a Seattle para-church organization that for more than 20 years has offered help for those who want to be healed of their homosexual confusion), says he’s never seen anything like this summer. Worthen says, “We [ex-gays] have been ignored by the church and the culture for 25 years, so it’s about time we are being allowed to let the world know that Jesus Christ can transform the homosexual. The media, in particular, has had a conspiracy of silence about the presence of ex-gays. This recent firestorm may also be the last call—God’s final attempt to return our nation to moral Christian values.”
Yvette Cantu, a former gay activist with the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) and the ACLU, now serves as a policy analyst for the Family Research Council (one of the sponsors of the ads). She comments: “I had thought that religious moral convictions were repressive, something which served to impose some people’s beliefs on others. That is the homosexual activist view, and it is increasingly the view of modern America. It is also completely wrong.”
Steve Schwalm, Senior Writer and Policy Analyst for the FRC, added: “The reason for the focus on homosexuality is not because it is worse than other sexual sins, but because this behavior has an aggressive lobby of activists trying to influence public policy and ultimately redefine the family.”
The Gay Activists
The appeal made to the very notion of “ex-gay” is understandably an affront to gay activists, since it directly challenges their portrayal of homosexuality as biologically determined. Recently they were supported in their antipathy toward the claims of ex-gays when the American Psychological Association seriously considered a resolution that would have designated any attempt to heal homosexuals as malpractice.
Their hope lies in promoting the theory that homosexuality is biologically determined and therefore must become normalized, and sex and family must be redefined. In a 1997 editorial in the Honolulu Advertiser, Mike Gabbard quoted the policy director for the National Center for Lesbian Rights (Paula Ettlebrick) as having declared: “Being queer means pushing the parameters of sex, sexuality and family, and in the process, transforming the very fabric of society. . . . We must keep our eyes on the goals of providing true alternatives to marriage and of radically reordering society’s views of reality.”
Gay activism has carried over into the churches. For years homosexual activists in many of the nation’s largest denominations have been insinuating themselves into doctrinal discussions and decision-making processes in order to overturn the idea that homosexual behavior is sinful. Gay activists have worked hard to redefine morality, values, love, the family, and the meaning of the biblical text itself.
When a denomination has failed to give them a voice, gay activists have raised up their own organizations (e.g., Reconciling Congregations, Dignity, Integrity, Affirmation, etc.), and have succeeded in portraying themselves as an “oppressed minority” or “deprived victim underclass” in order to win concessions. Often employed as a tactic of obfuscation, such posturing unfortunately has turned the debate away from the real issues of brokenness and morality. But how successful have they been in effecting a redefinition of biblical morality?
Homosexuality in the Mainline
Perhaps as a result of gay political strategies coming to light or the result of being pressed too far to make exceptions for sinful lifestyles, or perhaps in light of the witness of ex-gays, church leadership has finally begun to prevent further moral compromise. Although the language of “respecting homosexuals as persons that Christ died for” and “welcoming them into the church” rightly remains, the previous reluctance to take a definitive stand on gay sexual practice as being sinful, homosexual marriage as being unbiblical, and the ordination of practicing homosexuals as unlawful has recently diminished in some communions.
Pressed into a corner from various directions, the mainline church has finally begun to draw up lines of defense. For example, Anglican bishops from Third World churches were a force to be reckoned with last summer during the Lambeth Conference’s deliberations on homosexuality. They decisively rejected the liberal American trend toward appeasement and the incorporation of practicing homosexuals in the clergy. Calling for the church to remain faithful to the scriptural admonitions against homosexual behavior (Lev. 18:22; Rom. 1:21–28; 1 Cor. 6:9–11, etc.), the Lambeth resolution was backed by the Archbishop of Canterbury (Dr. George Carey) and 88 percent of the bishops who voted. Archbishop Carey said, “I see no room in Holy Scripture or the entire Christian tradition for any sexual activity outside matrimony.” The statement declares in part: “This conference, in view of the teaching of Scripture, upholds faithfulness in marriage between a man and a woman in life-long union, and believes that abstinence is right for those who are not called for marriage. . . . [and] cannot advise the legitimizing or blessing of same sex unions or ordaining of those involved in same sex unions.”
The notoriously pro-gay American Bishop John Spong was unable to get enough signatures to release a minority report against the resolution. Though the resolution is nonbinding, it does carry the moral authority of the numbers who voted for it and the affirmation of the head of the worldwide Anglican Communion, the archbishop of Canterbury.
The Episcopal Church USA (ECUSA)
Whether the Episcopal Church USA will honor the Lambeth mandate remains to be seen. (ECUSA is a member of the Anglican Communion). Several American bishops have already indicated they will not. Presiding Bishop Frank Griswold published a statement reminding bishops that the Lambeth Conference “is not a legislative body,” taking exception to its conclusions about “what is compatible with Scripture” and recommending another round of the “dialogue” that liberals continually cry for until they get their way. Anglican conservatives are now taking heart in the fact that the membership of ECUSA is quite small, having fewer than one-third the number of communicants in the Anglican churches of Uganda.
A look at other denominations’ positions over the past few years shows a trend toward a more aggressive biblical stance. The gains of pro-gay activists, for the most part, have been turned back—at least for now.
The United Methodist Church (UMC)
The United Methodist Church has recently emerged from the turmoil created when a UMC pastor in Nebraska conducted a same-sex union ceremony. The Judicial Council (UMC’s “supreme court”) decisively concluded that the vote by the 1996 General Conference to prohibit pastors from conducting same-sex union ceremonies, having been added to the Social Principles section of the Book of Discipline, was binding on all UMC pastors. (The denomination has held a firm position against affirming homosexual behavior since its General Conference passed a prohibitive statement by a strong vote in 1996).
According to the United Methodist News Service, “the recent decision indicated that pastors who perform homosexual marriage ceremonies can be brought before church court and risk having their clergy credentials removed. A prohibition against clergy performing homosexual unions or having such ceremonies in United Methodist churches has the status of law and is not merely advisory, the council ruled.”
Rev. Robert L. Kuyper of Bakersfield, California, was pleased. Rev. Kuyper is founder of the “Transforming Congregations” movement, which considers the practice of homosexuality a sin and helps people with a homosexual orientation find healing and transformation through Christ. UM News Service quoted Kuyper as saying, “I think the church wants to be compassionate to people trapped in homosexual lifestyles, but they don’t want to endorse it. My real fear is this decision will be ignored by many in the church and will continue to cause controversy and will detract us from doing ministry with people who are suffering.”
The pastor who held the forbidden ceremony (Rev. Jimmy Creech) is calling for ministers to defy the court and to hold homosexual covenant ceremonies in disobedience to the ruling.
The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA)
The Evangelical Lutheran Church took a stand against homosexual “marriages” at its 1993 Conference of Bishops. The statement that passed said in part, “We, as the Conference of Bishops of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, recognize that there is basis neither in Scripture nor tradition for the establishment of an official ceremony by this church for the blessing of a homosexual relationship. We, therefore, do not approve such a ceremony as an official action of this church’s ministry.”
“Vision and Expectations” is a document providing a statement of expectations for the ordained ministers of the ELCA. Its purpose is to “set forth what we expect of those who are in positions of trust and responsibility in this church.” In the section on “The Ordained Minister as Person and Example,” it reads, “Ordained ministers who are homosexual in their self-understanding are expected to abstain from homosexual sexual relationships.”
A 1996 “Message on Sexuality” adopted by the ELCA Church Council, making clear that it was not establishing new policy but was building upon previously adopted policy positions, said, “Marriage is a lifelong covenant of faithfulness between a man and a woman.”
The Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod (LCMS)
The more conservative LCMS has issued a pamphlet entitled “Homosexuality,” written by its president, A. L. Barry. In the document, Barry writes:
The Presbyterian Church USA (PCUSA)
The mainline Presbyterian church has once again taken a strong stand against homosexual unions and the ordination of practicing homosexuals. (A recent judicial case that let stand the ordination of an elder who is a practicing homosexual was based on procedural mistakes rather than denominational moral directives. In fact, the judicial commission admonished the ordaining body to “refrain from future irregular ordinations”).
In a 1985 statement by the Permanent Judicial Commission, “definitive guidance” was cited as already having been given in 1978 and 1979 decisions by the General Assembly, to the effect that “it is unconstitutional for the Church to ordain any self-affirming, practicing, and unrepentant homosexual as elder, deacon, or minister of the Word.”
The 1991 General Assembly published a pastoral letter saying, “We have reaffirmed in no uncertain terms the authority of the scriptures of the Old and New Testaments. We have strongly reaffirmed the sanctity of the marriage covenant between one man and one woman to be a God-given relationship to be honored by marital fidelity.”
A newly added amendment to the Book of Order, coming from the 1996 General Assembly reads:
The Presbyterian Church in America (PCA)
In a statement passed during their 1977 General Assembly, the PCA declared that “both the act and the desire” of homosexuality is a sin and that “a practicing homosexual continuing in this sin would not be a fit candidate for ordination or membership in the PCA.” The stand against the sanctioning of homosexual practice was reaffirmed in a 1993 “Declaration of Conscience on Homosexuals and the Military.”
The Nation’s Two Largest Denominations
The Roman Catholic Church
The Roman Catholic Church remains an immovable bastion of faithfulness to Holy Scripture on this issue. The amended version of the 1994 edition of The Catechism of the Catholic Church says:
In 1986, Pope John Paul II approved and ordered published a pastoral letter to the bishops of the Church which, in part, says:
The Southern Baptist Convention (SBC)
The position of the Southern Baptist Convention that homosexuality is a sin is universally acknowledged and in no danger of being compromised. The constitution of the Southern Baptist Convention, in listing the requirements for affiliation with the SBC says, “Among churches not in cooperation with the convention are churches which act to affirm, approve or endorse homosexual behavior.” This requirement was firmly brought home a year ago when two Southern Baptist churches in North Carolina were refused further fellowship by their local association for taking actions contrary to SBC beliefs (one church ordained a practicing homosexual and the other held a same-sex marriage ceremony). More recently, a SBC church in Texas was similarly expelled from fellowship for ordaining a practicing homosexual.
While there is no official outreach to the homosexual within the SBC, Rev. Tim Wilkins operates an Exodus-affiliated ministry (Cross Ministry) in Raleigh, North Carolina, and is now helping to produce a tract and an interactive study guide designed to teach Southern Baptists how to help homosexuals find freedom in Jesus Christ. Former SBC president Jimmy Allen wrote a book, Burden of a Secret, about his personal tragedy in having four family members contract AIDS (one through homosexual activity and the others via blood transfusions).
The Assemblies of God
One of the fastest growing denominations has weighed in heavily on traditional biblical values. Their 1979 General Presbytery adopted a report that said, in part:
The Church of God in Christ
A spokesman for the largest black denomination in the country (an estimated 7.5 million members) stated simply, “We don’t condone or sanction homosexuality in any form or fashion. We don’t have to make any resolutions on it. It is formally declared in the Word of God in which we stand.”
The Evangelical Free Church of America (EFCA)
The Evangelical Free Church holds a similar conservative line on the issue, as outlined in the still unchanged resolution entitled, “Homosexuality,” which was adopted by the General Conference in 1978. The resolution is clear that neither ministers nor congregants who are involved in the practice of homosexuality will be allowed in the fellowship and that no one may “urge or concede that the state should give special protection or approval to this practice or promote it as a matter of personal taste, free choice or ‘sexual orientation’.” In 1993 the EFCA strengthened its position with a resolution opposing homosexuals in the military.
The International Church of the Foursquare Gospel
The traditional, biblical stand on homosexual practice was affirmed in 1993 by the Foursquare Church in a denominational statement regarding human sexuality, which reads:
The United Church of Christ (UCC)
The UCC is the darling of the gay community. It is the only American Christian denomination that officially approves of the ordination of practicing homosexuals. In fact, many resolutions by their national body of delegates and church councils stretching back to the 1970s have vigorously encouraged opposition to the prohibitions against homosexual practice. In 1994, their denominational president even took part in a homosexual march in Washington, D.C.
And so, with only one notable exception, Christian denominations in America not only continue to stand firm against the relentless onslaught of manipulation, cajoling, and intimidation by gay activists, but also have actually “come out” more publicly and firmly than ever before to declare that homosexual practice is a sin and that the homosexual is a person that Christ died to save, redeem, and transform. The stormy ecclesiastical seas of this “summer of our discontent” have given rise to a new commitment by the people of God to his call to holiness.
Dr. D. James Kennedy, pastor of Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church, recently said, “An unholy world is never going to be won by an unholy church.” Is God preparing us to be effective instruments in a new and great outpouring of his Spirit for the salvation of souls? Frank Worthen believes this could be the final hour for the Church. Or perhaps God is “purifying for himself a people that are his very own” (Titus 2:14), “a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless” (Eph. 5:27).
The Reverend Fr. David Kyle Foster serves as Canon at the Church of the Messiah in Jacksonville, Florida, and is the founder and director of Mastering Life Ministries (P.O. Box 351149, Jacksonville, FL 32235, 904-220-7474, www.masteringlife.org). He has taught courses based on his book, Sexual Healing: God's Plan for the Sanctification of Broken Lives, at Trinity Episcopal School for Ministry and Asbury Theological Seminary.
“The Summer of Our Discontent” first appeared in the November/December 1998 issue of Touchstone. If you enjoyed this article, you'll find more of the same in every issue.
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