Touché July 22, 2016
Posted on July 22, 2016 by under Touché,

Pastoral Report on Homosexuality Issues

Background

When the Supreme Court made its ruling on gay marriage it unleashed celebration and concern across the country, in the church and at HRC.  I stood before the congregation the Sunday after the ruling and gave my word to address this issue. That was done in sermons and discussion after Easter this year. It also coincided with the Reformed Church in America convening “The Jerusalem Council” (with reference to Acts 15, the division between Gentile-Jewish controversy in the early church). The goal of the RCA was directing the council to find a constitutional way forward on this controversial topic. Our “Wednesdays at the Well” invited dialogue around scripture, a presentation from a follower of Christ who is a pastor and identifies as gay, and finally from the Reverend Jennifer Bendelius, Mid-Hudson Classis representative to the Jerusalem Council.

Below are my thoughts as I lead this congregation through this controversy and address issues that are before us.

The World--Things have moved quickly in culture in regards to gay marriage and the LGBTQ issues in bathrooms, rights and reactions. While many more issues are in the mix of the discussion and cause concern among Christians, I believe the issue that the church needs to deal with is whether there is room for faithful, monogamous relationships among gay people who are followers of Christ. I believe the other challenge that comes from our culture is whether we will deal with other concerns in a way that reflects the gospel and the welcome of Jesus.

The Church-The future of the RCA as a denomination is in the balance on this question.  Followers of Christ have convictions on both sides of the issue, and it seems that there has become less common ground. The General Synod of the RCA voted 60/40 to have the Classes vote to make the marriage liturgy constitutional. If approved, it will include the words: “Christian marriage is a joyful covenanting between a man and a woman.” Therefore any pastor who marries a gay couple would be outside the bounds of what would be acceptable in the RCA.  We have only two sacraments, communion and baptism. Up to this point those are the only two liturgies that are constitutional. Most believe that this recommendation will not get the 2/3rds vote needed in the classis and therefore will not pass. People against the RCA vote oppose it for the gay marriage reasons, but also for the polity reasons. The vote will be taken throughout this year and reported to General Synod next June.

The reality is deep division between people that I have known for a long time. My place in the RCA has always been as an evangelical who is able to join with conservative pastors and liberal pastors. Many cannot tolerate staying together in this tension, and if the vote fails to receive 2/3 of the Classes, many conservative congregations may leave. Conversely, if the proposal carries the needed votes, many liberal congregations may leave.

The Bible/Marriage/Sin

One statement that I hear continually as pastor in this situation is: “Taylor, I am not sure you believe it is sin.” This is a key question for members of our congregation who have come to me with concerns.

The Bible has six verses that directly address homosexual acts. All six passages are condemnations of sin that reflect lust, abuse of minors, abuse of the stranger, and activity that is outside of those who follow the Lordship of Christ. The conflict in interpretation comes when we look more deeply to ask whether those condemnations apply to faithful, monogamous, covenantal relationships between gay people.  The sin the Bible speaks of is sin that can be applied to inappropriate heterosexual relationships as well.

Genesis and Jesus speak about God’s design for marriage as male and female. The Apostle Paul speaks of an alternative design: he says it is better for believers to stay celibate and focus solely on the kingdom of God. Paul was reflecting his situation, but he did not say it was a sin to be married and encouraged people to do it instead of “burn with lust.” There are some who say that even polygamy was tolerated in the early church, but Paul says to Timothy that leaders in the church should be the “husband of one wife.”

Genesis teaches that “it is not good for a man to be alone,” a truth that runs throughout scripture.  We find that modeled in the Trinity and for many of us our own experience is in male and female marriage.  I believe it is clear from science and experience that some people are not drawn to a relationship with the opposite sex.   It is in their nature and this is beyond my understanding.  While some may choose to live as Paul encourages all to live—celibate—many desire what many other Christians have desired:  covenantal, monogamous relationships. I believe that the church should make a way for this to happen for those who follow Christ.

HRC

 What does this mean for HRC and my leadership here? First there are no gay marriages in the works and we have no other pressing matters that push us to make any hasty decisions.  Any marriages that would set precedent like this would have to be approved by the board of elders who oversee the spiritual health of the church. Any leaders that are being asked to lead the church will be considered for the spiritual health and relationship to Christ as Lord and Savior.

Outside of that we have clearly stated that the ministry at Hopewell will be guided by our four core values: radical love, radical justice, radical welcome and radical gospel.

Radical love reminds us that we have stayed together in spite of differences that could have split us from the beginning. Paul’s words in Galatians should guide us: “For the whole law is summed up in a single commandment, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” If, however, you bite and devour one another, take care that you are not consumed by one another.” (Galatians 5:14-15)

Radical justice reminds us that we are a people who advocate for the rights of those who may be excluded and rejected by others. Our early days reminded us that the church exists not just for Christians, but to show God’s compassion for all of creation. “So then, whenever we have an opportunity, let us work for the good of all, and especially for those of the family of faith.” (Galatians 6:8)

Radical welcome invites us to be people of hospitality, to welcome everyone into relationship with HRC and relationship with Christ. If we put barriers around who may come, or what, besides Christ, someone must put on if they are to join our fellowship, we have misrepresented the gospel.  The high point of Galatians is when Paul points out the barriers broken down through Christ. “As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.” (Galatians 3:27-28)

Radical gospel reminds us that the one truth that ties all truth together is the Lordship of Christ. Our identity is not found in our sexuality, our nationality, our race or ethnicity. The gospel proclamation is clear from Galatians 1: “Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, who gave himself for our sins to set us free from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father,  to whom be the glory forever and ever. Amen.”

Finally the two sacraments that are constitutional in the Reformed tradition are baptism and communion. In our baptism we are united to Christ and to each other, and in communion we eat with all who confess Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior. We may see many divisions in our world today, but in the church Christ brings us together and helps us recognize that we are all sinners in need of the gospel, and in Him all who come are saved by His grace. We will continue to differ on what it means to live that out in our world today, but we live that out together under the Lordship of Christ. That is the only hope for a world so torn apart by race, gender, sexual identity, nationality, politics, economics and we know the list goes on. In this time of division I pray that we can know what the gospel proclaims, that we are all one in Christ.

Taylor Holbrook

July 17, 2016